My Queen Karo (a TIFF preview)

My Queen Karo (2009)
Written & directed by Dorothée Van Den Berghe
Starring Déborah François, Anna Franziska Jaeger, Matthias Schoenaerts, Maria Kraakman

One of the joys of the Toronto International Film Festival is that it brings the opportunity to see cool films you'd never otherwise see in your local Cineplex, and My Queen Karo - a Dutch/Belgian offering that will have its World Premiere at TIFF - is just such a gem. A thoughtful, character based film, the story follows the (mis)adventures of a motley crew of hippie-squatters in 1974 Amsterdam through the eyes of Karo, a ten year old girl who arrives from Belgium with her father Raven and mother Dalia.

It's Déborah François who headlines the credits as Dalia, (a gorgeous rising Euro star who had a breakout film in 2005 with Jean-Pierre Dardenne's l'enfant,) but this is entirely Anna Franziska Jaeger's film in the role of wide eyed Karo as she quietly observes the world of adults around her. Van Den Berghe immerses us in the squatter culture of the times, with its ragtag, impractical philosophies and the realities of living in makeshift surroundings with only cold running water and stolen clothes and furnishings. At first, the group lives with no walls, sleeping in a communal bed where sex between any number of people might erupt - even with a child on board. But things start to disintegrate when Raven brings another woman and her children home (Maria Kraakman's Alice,) exposing Karo to the seamier realities of human nature.

The film has a definite "Euro" look about it, and by that I mean it eschews the glossy veneer of Hollywood for a very clear eyed and intimate view of its subjects and their world. Its sensibilities are also European, featuring plenty of nudity - including the children - and non-graphic sex, things that would send modern North American censors into hyperdrive. I have to say I much prefer this view, one that sees all these elements as fundamentally normal and part of ordinary human existence.

Karo begins to see through the frailties of her adult keepers, becoming the parent on more than one occasion. You could see the film as something of a polemic on the self serving bullshit inherent to most utopian leftist movements, and their ultimate futility, although Van Den Berghe's non-judgmental take favours neither the squatters nor their frustrated landlord. You could also see it as a look at the confusion and moral dilemmas imposed on children by dysfunctional, laissez-faire parenting, (and I put it to you that anyone who teaches their children it's morally wrong to pay for anything is not doing them any favours!) In the end, though, it's about the eternal desire of maturing children to leave the nonsense of the adult world behind them and carve out a life of their own.

Check out the trailer here and screening times here.