After nearly four years of monthly posts, this will be my last entry with the post calvin. I’ve been blessed to write and, more importantly, be read here and I like to think I’ve become a better writer over the years, at least in part, thanks to the editors and opportunities at this site. 

For the last few years, I’ve been working toward a (paid) career in film criticism. It’s not exactly the most market-friendly job, nor is it even my primary financial one, but I’m proud to say I’m finally reaching a point where I can think of my writing on film as a job. This fall, I was blessed with the opportunity to be paid to cover my first international film festival and I’ve even had a few reviews logged onto Rotten Tomatoes. My inner writer’s attention has been so myopically focused on making that dream a reality that I have not devoted the effort or planning that this site deserves. 

In the meantime, here’s a sample of what I’ll be doing: reviewing international cinema with a special focus on Northern and Eastern Europe (as well as East Asian). What follows is a very brief review of a small film called I Don’t Love You Anymore (2023) co-produced by Czechia, Slovakia, and Romania. The film is not yet available in the United States.

Somewhere in Czechia, the middle school aged Marek (Daniel Zeman) hides his innocence behind the lens of his cellphone’s digital camera. He is no activist—always turning away from and being passive toward the impoverished—but he records everything around him and is especially interested in society’s ugliest warts: drunkenness, destitution, suicide. Marek experientially knows the world is cruel and only knows how to respond with a camera. He doesn’t like his mother’s new boyfriend who has been spending the night more and more frequently and he even tries his best to ward off her lover by barging in and recording them mid-coitus. When he isn’t creeping on his mom, his camera eventually guides him to Tereza (Maisha Romera Kollmann), a mysterious and determined thirteen-year-old who sees through Marek’s brokenness and entices him. She has her own, possibly disturbed, issues at home. The two run away together and cause trouble for each other as they venture around Eastern Europe. 

For such a small budget, writer and director Zdenek Jiráský impresses with a plethora of sharp visuals that, without words, stylistically foreshadow the slow erosion of Marek’s innocence. Trash, rats, and a general unsanitary production design paint an experience of life that is non-conducive to growth; nor do we glimpse the inordinate interiors of fancy hotels they inquire into but can’t afford. Instead of a tease of the fancy life, the camera descends into the mundanity of homelessness, a Romanian sewer, and even a brief human trafficking scare. 

Early on, in one of cinema’s oldest atmospheric-setting tropes, Tereza’s mother runs over a stray dog. She and her mom never discuss the violence of what happened or any guilt she, the mother, may have incurred by talking on her phone; the consequence of such violence is sheltered from both Tereza and the viewer. Later, Marek takes several interesting bondage-lite photos of his runaway partner in a junkyard. The photos are in the same vein as the Cate Blanchett bondage photoshoot by Sean & Seng for 032C Magazine. There’s something icky about this teenager’s (chaste! thankfully) BDSM exploration, of course, which becomes even more uncomfortable with a slapping game later in the film. Tereza playfully requests that Marek sends one of the photos, calls her parents with a voice-changer, and tells them he kidnapped her and is going to rape her. He agrees to her dangerous request under the condition that she doesn’t listen in on the call. In contrast to the early scene of the dog being run over, we are sheltered from the horrible words that come from his mouth and experience the scene vicariously only through the reactions of Tereza and her mother. The artistic decision protects Marek’s image for the audience while still enabling him to bear the consequences for less than honorable actions. 

The two instances of sheltering—of a confrontation of violence with what should have been a moment of moral pedagogy involving the young girl and from a choice of violent words not meant in earnest but in what Marek thinks is “play”—clarify the direction of the two’s relationship. They are headed to a shattering of innocence (and not of the sexual kind, as it could have easily gone). 

Consent is usually a theme that, when present, controls the story. Here it lurks in the background and only occasionally comes up, perhaps because sexual consent is never transgressed (other than the parental coitus incident)—even though, for a moment, Jiráský creates a vulnerable and urgent fear. The use of Vanessa Weisz’s song “Fuck yeah no please” captures the smart way the theme bubbles with tremendous care to the surface. Marek’s uncareful camera is the main vessel for the cinematic conversation around consent—a conversation that lasts until the film’s final, tragic, frame where innocence is shattered forever. Unlike most “coming of age” films, a genre I’m skeptical even exists, there is no going back to normalcy after I Don’t Love You Anymore. Through their mythological venture through Eastern European destitution, their lives change forever.

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