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Lily Lane | 2016 Berlin Intl. Film Festival Review

Over the River and Through the Woods: Fliegauf Explores Intimate Portrait of Abuse Cycles

Hungarian auteur Bence Fliegauf returns with his first film since 2012’s Just the Wind, which picked up the Grand Jury Prize at the Berlinale, an emotionally taxing film concerning racial implications in the ruthless murder of several rural families. Known for his experimental flourishes and penchant for heavy material, the director begins in his comfortably downtrodden rhythm with his sixth feature, Lily Lane, an essay on nurtured cycles of familial abuse and the euphemistic nature of fairy tales as filter or escape from the clutches of a degraded existence. A refracted narrative unveils a troubled mother’s associations from her own childhood, hopelessly spilling into a present day predicament with her seven year old son. The result is a roundabout relay of psychological catharsis, at once frustrating and compelling.

Rebekah (Angela Stefanovics) tells her son Dani (Balint Sotonyi) a cryptic story about a hunter and a fairy and the boy child named Honey they are raising. Putting Dani to bed, she converses with the boy’s father via Skype, and their abrasive exchange reveals they’re on the verge of divorce, though Rebekah is not keen to go through with this. As Dani is passed back and forth between them, without his parents ever communicating face to face, Rebekah shares more of the increasingly disturbing fairy tale, which seems to be a direct metaphor for her dissolved relationship with his father. At the same time, Rebekah’s own mother unexpectedly dies after battling cancer, forcing her to trek into the woods with Dani and find her own estranged father.

The morose chill creeping over the development of Lily Lane is thanks mostly to a series of hand held night time camera shots, slowly drinking in the green glow of a significant ‘feeding tree,’ or gazing upon the still image of Rebekah’s elderly mother, decked out in pearls and confirmed as deceased only a few beats later. Those familiar with Fliegauf’s past works, including Just the Wind or his underrated English language debut Womb (a significantly weird film where Eva Green gives birth to the clone of her dead husband, Matt Smith) should know to expect something dire or ceaselessly uncomfortable at any moment. However, Fliegauf evades a dramatic denouement, instead painstakingly focusing on Rebekah’s psychological portrait in relation to her spatial presence in the narrative and on screen. We never get to see a visual of Dani’s father, a man who has an omnipotent upper hand as evidenced by his gruff Skype conversations, or a figure lurking just outside the entrance of their old home.

Clearly, Rebekah is a woman who has significant demons to face from her past, memories choked up in her childhood now coming to the surface, perhaps linked to the death of her mother. Afraid to go in the basement alone, she uses Danni as a conduit with his father, a man at the top of the stairs, so to speak, as she wallows in the mire down below. Unfortunately, the repetitive, elliptical, and ultimately too pointed tale of the hunter and the fairy, which we realize is a mirror of Rebekah’s life (where she has played both the child and the fairy) sinks the energy of Lily Lane considerably, and many may lose patience with this unhappy rumination on abuse.

Fliegauf reteams with his Just the Wind DP Zoltan Lovasi, and the film is a visual hybrid of handheld shots of menacing memories edited together for a pattern of unease, mixed with the promised terror of dark possibilities in the lush woods. The relationship of urban vs. rural development seems significant considering the potency staged in the woods of a neighborhood known as Csilleberc, located in the Buda Hills. Innocent childhood past times become dangerous storage receptacles, and Angela Stefanovics believably presents a frayed woman geared only with the blunt rearing tools she absorbed from her own parents. Stefanovics is reminiscent here of an actress like Anna Levine, a melancholy vessel of wounded femininity. Though ultimately Lily Lane begins to feel a bit too conspicuous in its closing moments, Fliegauf continues in his vein of uncompromising narrative aesthetics.

Reviewed on February 11 at the 2016 Berlin International Film Festival – Forum Program. 91 Mins.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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