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Time of Moulting

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FILMAKADEMIE BADEN-WUERTTEMBERG (2021)

 

Director: Sabrina Mertens

 

Starring: Zelda Espenschied, Miriam Schiweck, Freya Kreutzkam, Bernd Wolf

Time of Moulting is the debut feature from Sabrina Mertens and was created at the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg in Germany. Knowing this, I expected an artistic yet potentially slower affair and this is precisely what Time of Moulting offers. Its eighty-minute runtime hints at a more brisk narrative but this weightier take on a coming-of-age story is in no rush to reveal its story, instead opting for long stretches of quiet, allowing us as the viewer to search the characters for emotion and investigate each speck of scenery. The trouble is...it never really seems to go anywhere.

The story is set in 1970s Germany and focuses on Stephanie (Espenschied as the younger Stephanie, Schiweck portraying the character later in the movie) as she struggles with the stresses of growing up in the shadow of her mentally-spiraling mother and cold, unloving father. This is no light-hearted coming-of-age story, no awkward conversations with crushes or anything like that, Time of Moulting is a heavy, serious look at mental illness, repressed personalities, and the crushing need for independence. Split into two parts, young Stephanie is inquisitive and, at times, playful before showing signs of more morbid curiosities. The second half is set a decade later and we see Stephanie in a darker place, her actions become more concerning and she is still in the same grubby, cluttered home as before. The set design itself is well-crafted and effective, I got the sense of that house immediately and could understand more about the family living within based on the OCD-destroying mess. What isn’t entirely explored or effectively laid-out is exactly why Stephanie is the way she is and this leads to a disconnect between character and audience which never really threatens to become a reality at all during the film. It all feels...distant and cold. Sequences and scenes come and go without rhyme or reason, some interesting, others mundane and nothing is really resolved or satisfyingly concluded - the finale feeling frustratingly limp and underwhelming when it came around slowly.

 

Time of Moulting is set exclusively within the family home so the tense, claustrophobic atmosphere is well-executed and many of the lingering shots are captured competently and are compositionally interesting, however, the nagging sense that nothing is being said or accomplished became more prevalent the further the movie went on. There doesn’t always need to be expository scenes detailing every moment and event or major moments to springboard from plot point to point but Time of Moulting felt less like a tragic slice of life and more a collection of sad clippings from a diary with no real definition or purpose. It’s certainly well-made but is ultimately too detached and distant to leave a real impression.

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February 4th 2021