When Mom is a Dangerous Role Model

INTERVIEW. Director Heidi Maria Faisst remembers clearly what it was like changing almost overnight from a horse-loving girl to an unruly teenager. The chaos of the first titillating steps into adult life is the theme of "Rebounce", a story about Louise and her sexy and rebellious mother, who becomes a dangerously alluring figure of identification. "Rebounce" is the second Danish teen film running in Berlin's Generation 14plus.

Rebounce-2-photo-by-Christi

Photo: Christian Geisnæs

"Party moms" is a term for young mothers who can't see why their partying days should be over just because they have a child or two at home. We're living in an age when young mothers would rather be their daughter's friend than her parent. But kids need grownups to look up to and a party mom can be a dangerous role model.

“That was a really tough age. One moment you were up for anything, partying and drinking yourself silly, and the next moment you were crying to mommy.”

The mother in Heidi Maria Faisst's "Rebounce" is a big-time party mom. When the film opens, she is just out of jail, having served a long stretch for drugs, and heads straight for the nearest club in downtown Copenhagen. Following her from a distance is her teenage daughter Louise who has never really known her mother and was raised by her grandparents. That was fine when Louise was little, but now she is 14 and can't grow up fast enough. When her mother turns out to be a good-looking blonde with hot ex-boyfriends and a turbo-charged nightlife, the mother-and-daughter reunion becomes a volatile cocktail dumped into the generation gap. 

"I remember what it was like changing almost from one day to the next," the 38-year-old director says. "I had some really good friends who matched me maturity-wise, but I just woke up one day and was into totally different things.

"I was a real horse freak, but all of a sudden I didn't think horses were that interesting anymore. All that mattered now was boys, preferably older boys. I wasn't really ready and took some hard knocks. I was 12 and they were, like, 18. But I was irresistibly drawn in that direction," says the Austrian-born director, who had no problem getting into the head of her young protagonist Louise.

"That was a really tough age," she recalls. "One moment you were up for anything, partying and drinking yourself silly, and the next moment you were crying to mommy, wanting to be comforted like a little girl. Like Louise in "Rebounce" – one moment she is a young lady dancing provocatively in a club, the next day she is walking around with her roller skates dangling around her neck like an innocent child."

Mothers and Daughters

"We're so imprinted by our parents, even if they're not a presence in our lives," Faisst says.

As a lot of girls and women know, the process of identification between a mother and daughter can be really complicated. Life's requirement for social skills can become a role-playing game that's not always so easy to see through for the parties involved. But more than anything else, what fascinated Faisst about the story was Louise's uncommonly strong attraction to her mother. Louise is at the age where most girls want to distance themselves from their mothers, but to Louise, the mother she doesn't know becomes an alluring figure of identification and emancipation.

"Generally, no one wants anything to do with their parents at that age. Kids think their parents are lame, ugly, boring and dorky. I thought it was interesting to drop a mother into Louise's life, so that everything that's bubbling up inside her suddenly appears in the figure of a mother who is incredibly attractive and fun! She's passionate and sexy, and you can smoke and drink with her! "Everything you don't get to do with your ‘regular' parents. In the long run, though, I think you'd miss the security of having parents who say, ‘No, you shouldn't dye your hair green.' There's comfort in having someone pushing back. If parents are just ready to party down with their teenage kids, I think that takes something deeper away from their relationship."

The mother snorts coke and has a risky side job for a drug dealer. Including the element of crime in the film without developing an actual crime subplot was a tough line to walk, Faisst says.

"A lot of people have told me they would like to see drugs play a bigger role in the film. But I wanted to do a film without so much finger-wagging over drugs, more subtly pointing out that drugs simply happen to be a part of this mother's life. If you go to a club, there's something for the nose everywhere. I simply preferred to include it in the picture. You have to make your own experiences, and most of the time fortunately things turn out okay. Of course, they don't. I just don't think your parents are really in a position to stop you."

A Teen Film Without Cliches

Realistic teen films that aren't issue-based are a pretty rare breed. Generally, teen films are about something: bullying, drugs, peer pressure or the "first time," and they tend to be focused on groups more than individuals. It's rare to see a teen film that simply tries to dramatise a chapter in a young person's life.

Which seems odd in a way, because the formative years are such attractive material in so many ways, since the protagonist almost by definition is going through a crucial transition from one stage in life to the next. "Rebounce" is not a group portrait. Louise and her mother do not "represent" two different groups or environments. They are two people in the story of a young girl taking her first tentative steps into the titillating chaos of adult life.

"I always thought it was great to try and write about stages in life that were tough for me and that I have thought about a lot. Often, I think, the films that mean the most to us are the ones we saw when we were young. In a way, I think all filmmakers should make a teen or children's film or two. For me, anyway, it feels more non-judgemental and pleasurable to describe adults through the eyes of a young person."

As the film was gestating, heartfelt voices did not fail to remind Heidi Maria Faisst about the rules of the game. Don't forget it's a teen film, the refrain went. But is it really necessary to tell a story in a certain way or employ a special "youthful" aesthetic just because you are doing a teen film?

"My DP, Manuel Claro, and I talked a lot about how to get away from a stauncher brand of social realism. This isn't a film about social classes. Not at all. And we certainly didn't want to set it in the typical concrete tower blocks that signify a certain social group," Faisst says. Instead, she set her film in Ørestaden, a futuristic new district on the edge of Copenhagen. It's an impressive and distinctive-looking place – and it's not overused as a location. Same with the film's language: it should be refreshing but not fresh as in "young with the young."

Because young people are passionate texters, Faisst decided to use text messages in the film's graphics, but in a form resembling handwriting, not the familiar digital characters.

"I don't think there's a certain way to talk to young people. I think they are pretty smart and prefer not to be condescended to. If you overthink things, maybe you automatically start talking down to them. Anyway, we'll see what they think about my film. After all, it's not very ‘action-packed'," Faisst concedes.

Her last film was also about a mother and daughter. In the ironically titled The Blessing, the mother-and-daughter conflict was more bitterly inflamed, traumatically centred on a fatal post-natal depression.

"So compared with what I've been doing, "Rebounce" is pretty action-packed," she laughs.

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Zentropa

Founded 1992 by director Lars von Trier and producer Peter Aalbæk Jensen. Acknowledged for having reinvigorated the industry with Dogme 95. International breakthrough came with Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves (1996). Renown continued with Lone Scherfig’s Berlin winner Italian for Beginners (2000). Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark (2000) received the Palme d’Or, and also selected for Cannes were Dogville (2003), Manderlay (2005), and Antichrist (2009). Recent achievements in Berlin include Niels Arden Oplev’s Crystal Bear winner We Shall Overcome (2006) and last year’s contender A Family by Pernille Fischer Christensen. Launched several films by Per Fly, Annette K. Olesen and Susanne Bier. Recent titles include Mikkel Munch-Fals’ Nothing’s All Bad, Jørgen Leth’s The Erotic Human, and Heidi Maria Faisst’s Rebounce. Expected to release in 2011 are Lars von Trier’s Melancholia and Simon Staho’s Love Is In The Air. www.zentropa.dk

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