Sunday, 12 February 2012

'Childish Games' Berlinale (Competition) review:

Amid the tearful, slow-moving dramas that dominate events like these it's nice to get a change of pace, especially a few days in. Spanish horror movie 'Dictado', which translates as "dictation" (though the English language title is 'Childish Games'), is that welcome key change and a diverting addition to a so far so inert competition line-up - providing a very different atmosphere and even (whisper it) some semblance of a plot.

It's by no means perfect, taking its sweet time building up to a decent last twenty minutes, but by the time the protagonist goes predictably insane it has become tense and compelling. Written and directed by Antonio Chavarrias, the film follows primary school teacher Daniel (Juan Diego Botto) - a mild-mannered man with a horrific past. Daniel is haunted by the memory of Clara, a young girl who died tragically during a stupid game he and another boy were playing when they were children. Years later the other boy, Clara's brother, has committed suicide after claiming that he has been haunted by his sister, who has been reborn in the body of his daughter Julia (Magica Perez).

Feeling guilt for past events Daniel goes to his late friend's funeral where he meets - and is considerably freaked out by - Julia. Things get worse for Daniel when his compassionate girlfriend (Barbara Lennie) takes pity on the child and offers to become her guardian until a relative can be found. The upshot of this is that Daniel is now living with a girl he believes to be the potentially vengeful reincarnation of Clara. Is the child Clara or Julia? Is she out to get Daniel or not? After several twists and turns these questions are answered in a way which is nearly as pleasing as it is far-fetched.

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