Sunburned (2019)

Director: Carolina Hellsgård
Writer: Carolina Hellsgård
Cast: Zita Gaier, Gedion Oduor Wekesa, Sabine Timoteo, Nicolais Borger, Malik Adan, Flora Thiemann, Anima Schwinn, Mehdi Lamrini
Seen on: 14.9.2020

Claire (Zita Gaier) is on holidays in a big club hotel in Spain with her mother Sophie (Sabine Timoteo) and her sister Zoe (Nicolais Borger). Her mother and sister are quickly busy flirting and have little interest in spending time with Claire. When Claire meets the Senegalese refugee Amram (Gedion Oduor Wekesa) who sells bracelets on the beach, her desire to help him quickly turns into a deeper emotinal connection for her.

Sunburned is a beautifully made film that combines a coming-of-age tale with a serious political topic in a way that feels very natural. It stays with Claire’s childlike perspective at all times which is often to its strength, but does fall a little short sometimes. Even so, it is a strong film worth seeing.

The film poster showing Claire (Zita Gaier) with fox mask.

Even though Sunburned strikes a very different tone, it reminded me of Dirty Dancing a lot. The setting in the holiday club, how it shows the casualness with which the (female) guests avail themselves of the male staff around them (and the beach vendors are practically staff as well, albeit unpaid, illegal and in an even more precarious position than the people who officially work there, and the relationship between the two sisters (down to a couple of scenes that feel straigh-up copied). There is even dancing, though in a very different context again.

That is not to say that Sunburned isn’t its own thing or that it doesn’t have anything to add. While there are parallels, there are things that are very much different as well. Foremost that’s the fact that Claire is only 13 years old and the addition of post-colonialism and race as political dimensions here. It is very impressive how Hellsgård is able to use Claire’s naiveté to analyze the relations between Europe and Africa in a highly critical way that nails the issues and that is also distinct from, say, Paradies: Liebe and Dólares de arena.

Three girls - Claire (Zita Gaier), Chantal (Flora Thiemann) and Sandra (Anima Schwinn) - sitting on the beach looking out at the sea.

But it is not always to the film’s advantage that it remains with Claire that absolutely, and not only because it meant that everything is filtered through the white perspective. It would have been nice if we got to see the world through Amram’s eyes a little more. Sometimes I just wished for a more structural view, a more overarching criticism than just what can be shown in individual fates – and the film lacks that.

Still, it is a really good watch, especially if you’re able to supplement the structural view yourself. Gaier is amazing, the movie is beautifully shot and it definitely makes many good points and gives you more than enough food for thought.

Claire (Zita Gaier) in a car on the way home.

Summarizing: Very good.

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