Pelikanblut [Pelican Blood] (2019)

Director: Katrin Gebbe
Writer: Katrin Gebbe
Cast: Nina Hoss, Katerina Lipovska, Adelia-Constance Ocleppo, Murathan Muslu, Yana Marinova
Part of: SLASH Filmfestival
Seen on: 20.9.2020

Wiebke (Nina Hoss) runs a horse stable where she trains police horses. She lives with her adoptive daughter Nicolina (Adelia-Constance Ocleppo) and things are going really well. Since everything is so harmonic and business is taking up, Wiebke decides that she wants to adopt another a girl. As a single mother, she has to go to Bulgaria – as she already did with Nicolina. She and Nicolina find Raya (Katerina Lipovska) there and take her home. But with Raya, Wiebke may have gotten more than she bargained for.

Pelikanblut is an excellently made that speaks a lot of truth about adoption and traumatization, but uses it, unfortunately, to push the sacrificing mother image a little too hard. Still, most of it was so extremely good that I’m willing to forgive even the parts I strongly disagreed with.

The film poster showing Wiebke (Nina Hoss) carrying Raya (Katerina Lipovska) as if she was a baby.

[SPOILERS. They are vague, but may still take too much away.]

I have my fair share of experience with adoption and traumatized children, so I was particularly impressed how Gebbe nails the dynamics in the family. Especially since it’s usually a very taboo topic when adoption doesn’t go well. When children are too much to handle for somebody. When your entire life turns into something you barely recognize. And of course, when you do it sincerely and you do it right, you make a commitment and you know that you can’t just give up. If you give up, you’re just retraumatizing the child. But how far can you really push things.

And here is where the film went the wrong way for me: Wiebke keeps pushing. She sacrifices herself and she sacrifices Nicolina, in the hope that she might get to Raya. She keeps pushing even after it was recommended to her to stop because she is not equipped to handle the situation and she risks traumatizing Nicolina. And yet, Wiebke persists. Her unwillingness to give up is portrayed as purely self-sacrificing, although there’s also Nicolina to think of, and in the end, it’s an umitigated success. With that ending, the film puts even more pressures on mothers to do everything and give up everything for their children. And really – don’t we have enough of that already? Also, that Wiebke’s new boyfriend Benedict (Murathan Muslu) handles Raya with apparent ease seems to suggest that she needs a father and if they were just a “normal” family, things would be so much better. Not good, either.

Wiebke (Nina Hoss) meets Raya (Katerina Lipovska) for the first time.

That the success also comes by way of the supernatural (although there is a little bit of room for a natural explanation, if you try really hard) is also difficult to stomach, given that Wiebke and the movie so openly embrace psychiatric and psychotherapeutic help – and it just isn’t enough. Arguably, one could say that this supernatural turn tells us that motherly self-sacrifice can only work if you have actual access to magic, but honestly that’s an overly generous interpretation of the film if you ask me.

So, you can see, I did have my issues with it. But there was so much that worked about the film that I was still taken by it. The cast was great, especially the children, an absolute rarity to see children act that well. It was really well-made overall, from cinematography to pacing. And, as I said, it was very insightful in many ways. Altogether, I was really impressed.

Raya (Katerina Lipovska) screaming at the top of her lungs.

Summarizing: extremely strong.

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