In German folklore, the forest is a breeding ground for miracles, mysteries and the supernatural. Paying homage to the Black Forest of the Brothers Grimm, Kinderwald creates an ethereal, isolated and atmospheric woodland world of 1854 Pennsylvania.
Despite its apparent seclusion, this forest teems with characters of dubious, if not outright malevolent intent. The only exceptions seem to be the hardworking John Linden (Frank Brückner, who also co-wrote the script) , his dead brother’s wife, pious Flora (Emily Behr) and her two sons (Leo and Louie Fischer-Pasternak). Not long after settling in, the Linden children wander away, leaving their mother and uncle to endure a trial of faith through a dark and tumultuous fairy tale.
The disappearance shines a light on one of the key themes of the film: a mother’s endless and unconditional dedication to her children. Through thick and thin, we see Flora maintaining her faith and resolve. We see her grasping at the faintest hope, believing the impossible and continuing the search, despite her own breakdown and the indifference of others. Even putting herself in grave danger proves a small price to pay for the return of her two boys.
The suspenseful drama is as much about missing children as it is about the challenges of pioneer life in the unforgiving and uncooperative landscape of American wilderness. With no roads, barely any buildings and only a vague notion of social structure, every settler must fend for themselves. We see John struggling to balance his day job as a mine labourer with the need to build a shelter as soon as possible. Similarly, Flora must maintain a household with nothing but a frying pan and a tent.
Though harsh to live in, the landscapes of Kinderwald are absolutely breathtaking on-screen. Largely filmed outdoors by cinematographer Will DeJessa, the film captures images that, when coupled with the tense, suspenseful atmosphere of the story, create the film equivalent of magic realism.
Particularly, the nature scenes of Canadian artist Alex Colville, if combined with German romanticist Caspar David Friedrich’s expansive, sprawling, sublime forest visions, would produce the uneasy yet enchanted feelings evoked by Kinderwald. Like the paintings, the film convinces you, that though your eye can’t quite catch it, something otherworldly is at hand.
Fairytale-inspired child disappearance is a theme that runs through several of director Lise Raven‘s films, Kinderwald being the second of a trilogy.
Discover the mysteries of mid-nineteenth century Pennsylvania at Kinderwald‘s upcoming screening on Saturday, March 12 at 6 PM.
Lise Raven will be in attendance for a Q&A after the film. Raven, who is a founding filmmaker of the Slamdance Film Festival, will also conduct a directing master class on Thursday, March 10, from 10 AM till 4 PM.
By Alina Koval
Alina Koval is an artist, film enthusiast, environmentalist and radio show host. She is also the Community Outreach Coordinator for VIWIFF 2016. Follow her on Twitter @alinakoval_art.