Theatre historians recount that dead characters in ancient tragedies didn’t leave the stage. Instead, their faces were painted white and they stood at the back scaring the audience with pale frozen faces. Something similar is happening in “Hilda”, Rishi Pelham’s debut. Outwardly, it seems to comply with the traditions of modern social drama, that is everything is realistic, naturalistic, and pseudo-documentary. Especially in the beginning, when the title character, a high-school girl living in the not too prosperous quarters of London (and as we soon realize, in a dysfunctional family) comes home late at night and gets into a mess and the viewer is clueless as if he were awakened in the middle of the night. The parents’ muted cries, a restless camera, Hilda’s attempts to hide. It looks like murder is taking place, but it turns out that a new life is being born. In a horrible mess, brawl, and unpreparedness — Hilda’s mother is giving birth. This running and shouting and abrupt presage that the hapless family is not overjoyed to have a third daughter. Oh, yes, the ancient tragedy. Rishi Pelham allows for the formal device, but only indirectly. Instead of the white paint, he uses bruises and dark shadows under the eyes (so that her ambiguous relationship with her mother at the end is not surprising). It is not weird for a 16-year-old girl left alone to survive with her two younger sisters. But, strangely, these changes go unnoticed by her alleged friends: a girl Hilda has more than friendly feelings for, and a boy who timidly tries to become something more than a friend. An example of lawlessness: politely pretend that those falling into the abyss are all right. Another formal device that Rishi Pelham accepts is dance. Sometimes Hilda, when she is driven to despair, can express her attitude to this world only through dance. And, suddenly, it makes her similar to Bjork’s character from “Dancer in the Dark” who also receives more and more hideous blows of fate without understanding the reason and whom the director gracefully escorts to the scaffold. But in Lars von Trier’s movies, dance was a way of not seeing, of cutting oneself off, of creating a saving illusion. For Hilda, it is more pragmatic. She conceals it, feels shy about it (the image of a tomboy with a tin of beer in hand is the necessary armor), she tries to turn her dancing into an escape, and into a pronouncement, and into a way of communicating with her friend (and, perhaps, with her parents who once came to watch her school performance). And when the need to get money and to survive grew stronger, she made it her profession. But from the looks of the predatory female manager who is interviewing Hilda, it becomes clear that what is expected of the girl is not creativity, but something between striptease and prostitution. And then we suddenly feel the spirit of the classics. On the one hand, there is the cruel world (some years ago they would have said the world of money) which is ready to devour her. And on the other, there’s a kid (most certainly Hilda does not look like a kid, but still..) whose innate purity rebels against the life she is being dragged into. Dickensian traditions live on, even when we see London slums of the 21st century on the screen. Only no one seems to believe in miraculous Christmas happy ends anymore.
Igor Savelev


The Festival Daily