Axolotl Overkill Directed by Helene Hegemann

Axolotl Overkill Directed by Helene Hegemann
Courtesy of Sundance
No one likes to be spoon-fed a narrative, so it's often a relief when directors opt to let their films speak for themselves. That said, Axolotl Overkill, the debut feature from 24-year-old German novelist Helene Hegemann, swings too far the other way: the plot points are far too subtle. Unless you read the film's official synopsis before going into it, you'll likely feel a little lost.

The film is based on Hegemann's best-selling novel of the same name, and follows the adventures of Mifti, a transgressive 16-year-old girl who prefers partying and casual sex over spending time in school. She lives with her half-siblings, occasionally spends time with her incredibly wealthy father and, according to the synopsis, is romantically involved with both a white-collar criminal and a famous actress. All of this, apparently, because she's mourning the death of her mother.

Sure, you see Mifti frolic around with the criminal — a heavily tattooed woman — and go clubbing with the actress, but any semblance of plot structure ends when you leave the studio notes behind and are alone with the film. Our anti-heroine travels from scene to scene and randomly fondles various characters, but you'll have to studiously read the subtitles to find any real reason why.

The film's surreal nature is compounded by an unfortunate dose of pretentious "indie film" quirks, as the line between reality and dreaming is often blurred to a frustrating degree. For no good reason, Mifti briefly crosses paths with a unicorn and is visited by a live penguin in her apartment. Much of the film is eaten up with slow-motion shots of brooding Germans puffing on long, skinny cigarettes. 

With its highly stylized cinematography and fantastic R&B soundtrack, Axolotl Overkill has a lot going for it aesthetically. Further, as Mifti, Jasna Fritzi Bauer makes the most of what she's given, offering both cool standoffishness and human warmth in the role. 

Mifti's edgy persona is more than welcome in a world where angst-ridden and flawed female characters are desperately under-explored, but Axolotl Overkill falls apart due to its misguided direction and unnecessary idiosyncrasies. An axolotl makes an appearance, to be sure, but it's the "overkill" part of the film's title that's most accurate. (Vandertastic)