TIFF 2021: Earwig

Image Courtesy of TIFF

Lucile Hadžihalilović’s latest film Earwig is a bleak tableau of strange, artistic nihilism.

Albert (Paul Hilton) is tasked with looking after a little girl Mia (Romaine Hemelaers). He must change an intricate headgear that collects what looks like her saliva, freeze those drippings in a cast for teeth, and fit her with previously frozen teeth. This is a daily routine scheduled by mysterious overseers until Albert receives a phone call instructing him to prepare Mia for a journey to be brought to them. She must learn how to behave in the outside world, which is just as bleak as the dark and sparsely furnished house. Albert is unaccustomed to the training and change in their routine and heads out one night for a drink. He becomes a part of an unfortunate incident at the local bar and will soon be a part of a larger fate as he prepares Mia for her journey.

I have to use the word bleak once more to describe the tone of Earwig. Based on a book by writer and artist Brian Catling, one will probably not be able to make heads or tails of this film set in post-war Europe. From what I can gather, it could be an allegory for displacement many felt after WWII, survivors who thought they would never make it to the other side of war, only to find themselves living a life without any plan. There’s also a sense of survivor’s guilt woven into Earwig as well. That’s just a guess, my only spoiler-free guess. I was enthralled by Hadžihalilović’s film Évolution, not really able to nail down a definitive take on the boys in a mysterious seaside village either. I will say that I loved the shadowy production design and the scoring by Augustin Viard and Warren Ellis. It had a creepy silent film sound that was slightly funereal-appropriate for the minimal dialogue throughout Earwig’s procession-like pace; a slow march to nothingness.

So how should you approach Earwig? I can’t tell you what to do, but even though the characters have already seeped into my psyche, I’m compelled to watch this autumnal nightmare again at some point, read the book, and then weep a little over a sadness that’s just out of reach.

Check out the 2021 TIFF festival here.

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