BIFF Film Review: To Kill A Beaver (Zabic Bobra)

   To Kill A Beaver constitutes, on paper, perhaps the most interesting sounding of all of the features joined together in competing for the top prize at this year's Bradford International Film Festival. Starring the intense Eryk Lubos (My Flesh, My Blood), Jan Jakub Kolski's Polish feature is a (primarily) two-handed thriller centred around the  relationship between a paranoid, cold-hearted (and rather peculiar) killer (Lubos), and the teenage runaway he finds moved into his rural safe house in which he hides between jobs; it's an austere set-up that isn't too far removed from the famous Godard declaration that all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun.

   In a small, perverse way To Kill a Beaver's premise is not too far from removed an inverted, nightmarish version of Spirit of the Beehive or Whistle Down the Wind - a youngster finds themselves embroiled in the life of someone from the bad side of the tracks whilst seeking sanctuary in what they assume to be a safe place. This, however, is not a coming of age tale with a sentimental backdrop but rather, a film which ramps up the tension throughout until the explosive finale is a forgone, albeit still shocking, conclusion.

   As to be expected from a movie featuring, for the majority of its running time, just two on-screen characters it is their chemistry which is used to hold the piece together - and what bizarre chemistry they have indeed!

   The relationship, which begins with little more than a shared locale, flits from brutal to tender in the blink of an eye; not long after meeting they engage in sweaty, torrid, anxious sex which seems to bond the couple just long enough for him to tell her to wash her hands and leave. It's a tale of borderline Stockholm Syndrome in which no one is physically held captive but rather, and much more agonisingly, they are locked into the dark histories which scar them both; he is mentally battered from his experiences with the Russian military and the teenage girl also has a pitch-black back-story which somehow aligns her almost perfectly with the frayed hit-man. It's their shared experiences with horror which drive them to seek human warmth but which, perversely, make them impossible to understand what it is to give or receive love.

   Taking its title from a sub-plot, and would-be poetic metaphor, featuring a gang of beavers whom invade the hitman's territory and whom he is as obsessed with disposing of as Bill Murray is with gophers in Caddyshack, To Kill A Beaver is a film which it is hard to take much from. It is at turns confused and confusing, attempting to put together a piece centred around violent poetry without really having much to say on any subject; its plot veers from inert to implausible to incomprehensible with little rhyme or reason. Knowingly surreal, the askew tone of the movie may put off many would be attendees, and it's overall message ("violence damages people") is one which has been visited many times before in other much more coherent features.

   This is not to say the film does not have its merits: Lubos, for instance, is a commandeering figure who delivers a powerhouse performance of physical intensity which hints at an aching, existentially vulnerable soul behind an unhinged psyche. Similarly, Kolski's film has gleeful abandon and disdain for conventional genre lines which means that, whilst the movie will not be everyone's cup of tea (I heard one person in the audience declare it was the "second worst" they had ever seen), it does seem destined to pick up something of a cult following on the festival circuit.Set to be a dividing movie, this is a feature which will leave you either entirely nonplussed or ecstatic at its bravery in side-stepping familiar territory.
* This film was screened as part of Bradford International Film Festival

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