In the spare yet unflinchingly intimate film Dreissig (Thirty), director Simona Kostova explores the emotional variables among a group of friends in their late twenties. They’re introduced separately, and then meet for a night out to celebrate a friend’s birthday. The characters are named for the actors who play them, suggesting a docu-verite approach that is supported by the camera’s efforts to unveil what is beneath their casual yet carefully honed appearances. This aesthetic is mirrored in the film’s look as well: Kostova’s seemingly natural compositions (with the help of cinematographer Anselm Belser) stand out through the use of color, lighting and close ups.
When Kostova first introduces Övünç, who’s about to mark his 13th birthday, he arises in his dimly-lit apartment as dawn tinges the walls pale blue. Övünç pulls on some clothes, talks on the phone (there’s no voice on the other end but subtitles provide the other half of the conversation: an odd choice) and then lights a cigarette, with a tiny spot of orange light being the only warm color visible. The boy says he has to get some writing done; after a few moments, he begins vacuuming his apartment. The implication is that he won’t get to his writing any time soon in Dreissig.
Dreissig’s simple yet intriguing opening scene sets the tone for a film that all but demands that viewers watch it carefully. The action unfolds slowly in natural time (imagine the long, languid sequences Fred Kelemen’s films), and natural scenes of dialogue are often punctuated with long moments of silence, where characters are simply listening or thinking. There are other notable contrasting elements, with the characters’ behavior often creating a balancing effect (one talks at length while the other stays silent; one is garrulous while the other is withdrawn), but the director also creates contrasts with light and sound — sudden blasts of darkness, sudden jolts of light, loud noises that go on for almost unbearable lengths of time. It’s as if Kostova is challenging the viewer to confront their own pet peeves and the things that make then impatient or anxious.
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Kostova’s manipulation of light and dark, noise and silence, plays out beautifully as the friends hush one another while trying to stick lit candles into Övünç’s birthday cake. As the candles increase in number in Dreissig, the light grows brighter; when Övünç blows the candles out after a song, the darkness descends again suddenly. A too-bright fluorescent light makes everyone groan, until a softer one is found. It’s impossible to say if there’s a larger meaning here, but the intense intimacy of the camera’s bold eye suggests an uncanny parallel to the thoughts and emotions of these young adults.
After cake and song, the friends all depart for a nightclub, finding their first choice closed. Anja, a newcomer, convinces them to cross over construction barricades and run through the streets, in a scene that ought to be playful and exhilarating but instead feels quite intense. The second bar is crowded; electronic music plays and the camera moves amongst the crowd, reminiscent of an Olivier Assayas film. But instead of choreographed movements and evolution of action, the camera moves over the characters’ faces, highlighting the flawless skin of youthful people in flattering light, with every shining forelock of hair or smoky sweep of eye shadow like a detail from a pre-Raphaelite painting. It’s a beautiful and haunting sequence.
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The evening continues in Dreissig, with scenes that are both pensive and terrifying. The music runs the gamut from dull and derivative to fine and transporting. The friends separate and come together repeatedly, linked by their unspoken bonds. By suggesting that this 24-hour period is a milestone, or page, of an ongoing story, Kostova creates an insightful portrait crafted from carefully-observed scraps and shards. The result is strangely dazzling, like a mosaic.
Peg Aloi (@themediawitch) is a freelance film and TV critic, and teaches media studies in upstate NY. She’s written about film for Broadly, Film School Rejects, Polygon, the Orlando Weekly and the Arts Fuse, and was a longtime critic for the Boston Phoenix. She likes high quality horror, dreamy cinematography and characters who don’t know what the hell they’re doing.
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