The Movie Waffler New to MUBI - EARWIG | The Movie Waffler


earwig review
In a gloomy European city, a man is charged with looking after a silent young girl.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Lucile Hadžihalilović

Starring: Paul Hilton, Romane Hemelaers, Romola Garai, Alex Lawther

earwig poster

There's a memorable sequence in Woody Allen's Stardust Memories in which Allen imagines himself stuck on a train filled with the most depressed looking individuals imaginable. Across the platform is another train, this one filled with partying beautiful people, including a young Sharon Stone. Should you find yourself in a cinema watching Lucile Hadžihalilović's oppressively gloomy Earwig, you might begin to feel like Allen's protagonist as you strain to hear the sounds of Top Gun: Maverick emanating from the next auditorium.

Allen was parodying a very European tradition of glum arthouse miserabilism, and while there are no laughs in Earwig, it's difficult not to view it in similar terms. Like her previous film, the Lovecraftian Evolution, Hadžihalilović's latest plays like a 20 minute short that has been stretched out to feature length like a chewed piece of gum between an adolescent's teeth.

earwig review

Speaking of adolescent teeth, they play a key role in the non-narrative of Earwig. Young Mia (Romaine Hemelaers) has no teeth of her own, and so every morning the strange man, Albert (Paul Hilton), who looks after her/keeps her captive fits her with a set of teeth made of ice. That night her melting teeth are collected in a device strapped to her mouth that allows the water to drip into two small containers next to her cheeks. This device is credited to Delicatessen director Marc Caro, which raises the question of whether he was enlisted by Hadžihalilović to design the curiosity or whether he's had it knocking around for a while and finally convinced a fellow filmmaker to put it to use.

Albert appears to be looking after Mia for an unseen man who occasionally checks in by telephone, on a particularly crackly line. Each call sees Albert assure him all is well, but one day he is instructed to prepare Mia to leave in a couple of weeks and get the child accustomed to the outside world. That outside world, a Kafka-esque approximation of post-war Central Europe, is as glum as the nicotine stained apartment the pair live in.

earwig review

Another sub-plot emerges involving a local barmaid (Romola Garai) who is injured and taken in by a young doctor (Alex Lawther). Things really begin to become confusing as a parallel timeline appears to emerge, with elements of the story overlapping. Time and identity begin to blur as the film becomes a sort of Last Year at Mulholland Drive. We're left to ask unanswerable questions as to whether Garai represents the grown-up Mia (there is no resemblance between the two actresses), or Albert's dead wife, who is played in flashbacks by another actress, which might be taken as a nod to Bunuel. If Hadžihalilović's film is a jigsaw puzzle you can't help but wonder if she's purposely thrown away the corners just to baffle us further.

Adding to the discomfort is a soundscape that will have you worrying you've developed tinnitus. A recurring motif sees Albert running his fingers around the rim of a glass, replicating a noise that seemingly once delighted his wife. It eventually hangs in the air like feedback at a Neil Young concert.

earwig review

What does it all mean? I have no idea, and that's perfectly fine. I've always favoured mood over plot, but the mood here is dreary to an intolerable degree. Hadžihalilović began her career as a collaborator of Gaspar Noe, a filmmaker often accused of being nothing more than a shock merchant. That's an accusation that certainly can't be leveled at Hadžihalilović, whose films could honestly use a shock or two to keep us awake.

 is on MUBI UK now.

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