Helena Zengel's performance recently playing against Tom Hanks in News of the World. She was excellent in that and looked to me like she was a talent waiting to spring.
So yes, that's how I uncovered this German indie family drama come indie psycho thriller originally titled Die Tochter. She was (even) younger here and this directorial feature debut by German Mascha Schilinski has some dark and menacing undertones which are alluded to, suggested and teased but fall short of exploding onto the screen. But in lieu, there's so much to admire and consume.
The basic story is about a couple who split up two years before our film starts when their daughter was 5, so she's now 7. Mum and dad are living separately and the girl, Luca, lives with mum and sees dad frequently. Mum is seeing other men but nothing is working out and she is short of cash, with the suggestion of her being an actor trying to find work. Dad comes over frequently and Luca loves him dearly, the start of the audience beginning to wonder if there's something odd about the father-daughter relationship. When he's around she plays up to him somewhat inappropriately and generates situations where she can cuddle up to him in bed as she drops off to sleep, for example, instead of mum.
Anyway, the parents decide to sell their holiday home in Greece to make ends meet and the three of them set off there to clean, tidy and show to a potential buyer. When they get there, mum and dad start to fall for each other again and eventually start creeping around the house to bed each other - and not let Luca see. She does though. And she's not happy. She then does everything she can think of to drive wedges between this rekindled relationship, going to quite some lengths. She has sight of losing her central role in the lives of both of them.
There's slightly too much underwear/swimwear footage of the kid for comfort and I'm interpreting that as being a framework for the suggested psychology behind the father-daughter thing and (at one point) rejection of mother. The picture is painted around daddy's girl and less-than-perfect physical appearance of mum. At one point, mum looks at her own nude body in the mirror, clearly unhappy. There's also a disturbing scene as the three of them share a bed and mum and dad are all-but naked french-kissing with Luca alongside.
It goes from odd to spooky really as we follow Luca in the central role and see the story from her eyes, often. There's also flashbacks to the disturbing scenes from two years previous when they told Luca about the split, which she dreams about still (and was also on this island), where the beach, rocks and cliffs are presented in eerie tones with supporting music. Incidentally, I thought the music and soundtrack was great - apparently a (relatively) unknown German outfit called AnnAgemina. I thought it was Bjork during watching!
The cinematography has been excellently thought out and there are great visuals throughout including selective use of close-focus and de-focus, with long lingering shots of unhappy, conniving, scheming Luca's face. To add to the spook, Luca also creates this kind of bubble (imagines) around dad (to protect him from harm, it seems) especially after he has a funny turn one day and they talk about heart attacks. In fact, throughout the film there's cuts to a beating heart in a body which could be interpreted as his, or maybe a reflection on her birth and the history of all their relationships. Later on birth is referenced via footage of a pregnant cat giving birth outside their house. As you can see, it's a bit arty-farty and confused here and there.
It's a question, at the end of the show, of how successful Luca is in keeping/getting them apart - or whether they pull together as a family to get past it. It's pretty much a three-actor show and they all do their jobs admirably well and convincingly oddly. And that's what the film is really. Just odd. With some very uncomfortable undertones but also a forward drive that makes for compelling viewing. It's that European cinema thing again which is so good at taking what, on the face of it, could be an ordinary tale - and turning it into an extraordinary, entertaining feast to consume.
I would recommend it very much for Helena Zengel's performance if nothing else. That's the second time now that I've been very impressed with her child-talent acting and I think we'll see more films with her popping up soon. You might find it hard to get, however. It is on some streaming services but you might not get subtitles. Or you can scour Amazon Germany for a DVD etc. I enjoyed it very much, but it is a bit odd and disturbing.