Published May 04, 2009Dutch filmmaker Laura Meijer's artistic true-crime documentary is a haunting film that attempts to understand how a 16-year-old high school student, Maja Bradaric, well-liked by her peers, could be strangled by three of her good friends with heinous premeditation.
Using re-enactments, traditional talking head interviews and home video archival footage we learn about the step-by-step events that led to her death. From the testimonials of her friends we learn Maja was a typical teenager, Bosnian by birth, who hung out with the mix of cultures that represents modern Dutch society. Her friends discuss the frustration and bewilderment of the violence, which in hindsight, was foreseen and could have been prevented.
And so, without overt proselytizing, the film is not about discovering the murderer but the emptiness of youth and the disconnect between their perceived adulthood and the responsibility of maturity they are unwilling to accept. It's a dangerous concoction, resulting in this heinous crime, which, even in the end, goes largely unexplained.
How can you understand the mind of an immature, undeveloped child? This is the question in the subtext of Sweety — the same question asked by Gus Van Sant in Paranoid Park, which makes a good companion film. Like Van Sant, Meijer's uses a distinct cinematic eye, edging the film away from the traditions of the genre. Meijer frames her interview subjects from odd angles and uses bold camera moves to express her nightmarish, melancholic tone.
Meijer also seems to have the same progressive ear for music as Van Sant, as the soundtrack includes a variety of club-worthy synth pop. But it's the thematic level where Meijer and Van Sant link up naturally. Both Paranoid Park and Sweety target with uncompromising cruelty the cold apathy and indignation teenagers can harbour — a sharp contrast to the fantasy worlds Hollywood feeds us about high school life.