One of the most impressive films at the 48th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival was the Slovakian/Czech film Miracle (Zázrak) from the director Juraj Lehotsky (born 1975 in Bratislava) which opened the East of the West competition. It was even worthy of the FEDEORA-prize. The problem we had in our jury was that Miracle and Velvet Terrorists (Zamatovi terroristi), the winner of the FEDEORA-prize, were very different, even incomparable in their approach, dramaturgy and tone: cohesive and earnest the one film, episodic and funny the other. Two films which connected the antagonistic sides of the uneven, sometimes disappointing competition.
Lehotsky’s feature debut tells the story of Ela (Michaela Bendilová), a fifteen-year-old girl, who is very much in love with a man twice her age, Roby – a relationship which displeases her mother. Ela is a very reserved, sensible and wounded girl, stubborn, maybe, but very insecure of herself. She seldom speaks or laughs, she is unable to utter her wishes and desires or show her emotions. She constantly fights with her mother who does not know how to cope with her reticent daughter.
After a series of conflicts she sends her to a detention facility. Here Ela meets other girls who have experienced the same problems, even more than that: truancy, running away, drugs and prostitution. Ela is not able (or willing) to adapt to this small, enclosed community of outcasts. She does not eat, she does not speak. Trusting nobody she only makes friends with another girl with whom she occasionally runs away by night. Ela is still dreaming of a future together with Roby, and she is determined to do whatever it takes to make it happen. But when she becomes seriously ill this dream seems to be over.
Miracle is rough, direct and very authentic, with a documentary approach. In the beginning of the film the people live in ugly, grey houses, the apartments are shabby and dark, the correctional facility is, of course, very bare. And outside? Clouds cover the sky during daytime, the sun barely shines, the nights are dark and impenetrable – there are no bright spots in Ela’s life. The sadness of this environment shows no compromise, there is no way out. No wonder that everybody is only thinking of themselves, that nobody shows emotions, that a mother-daughter-relationship can break so easily. Ela cannot even rely on Roby who is getting more and more annoyed by her demands.
But there are also touching and tender moments, for example, when Ela’s only friend tries to make her eat or helps her when she is sick. Lehotsky has a very documentary look on the life in the detention facility. The aim of the film is “to see her life the way it is, in all its simplicity and ordinariness”, as the director is quoted in the production notes. He just observes what is happening. With the theme of broken dreams and a life without a perspective Miracle reminded me of other films about young girls, Tim Roth’s War Zone, Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter and especially Lukas Moodysson’s Lilja 4-ever, and maybe that’s the only flow of the film: It lacks a kind of uniqueness because the story has been told so often before.
Miracle is unthinkable without the extraordinary performance of the young Michaela Bendilová. The director discovered her in a detention facility after a search lasting nearly two years. Bendilová is very impressive in this role, very natural and convincing, the spectator believes her every move, every gesture, every look. Without her the film would not be as strong and as earnest as it is.
Michael Ranze, Germany