The director Stina Werenfels trained as a pharmacist, so making a film about someone blooming after going off medical drugs does sound like a subject she may have encountered a few times. It is not an easy film to stomach, and you may find yourself wondering what to make of it – after all, films about mental illnesses usually tread on more “comfortable” or “filmic” conditions than Down’s Syndrome – but then, the great thing about indie films is that they don’t have to play it safe.
Dora (Victoria Schulz) is constantly drugged out by her doctors to control her Down’s Syndrome, until her mother Kristin (Jenny Schily) decides to give her a chance to be a “normal” girl. Dora flourishes as soon as she is out of the drugs, but being a teenage girl, her sexuality also awakens, much to the dismay of her parents, who are trying hard for a second child with no success. Dora quickly gets infatuated with Peter (Lars Eidinger), and they start a sexual relation. Only Peter doesn’t seem to care that much about Dora, seeing her only as an easy, weird lay, and Kristin struggles to force Dora to get any kind of contraception…
There are so many questions raised by Dora or the sexual neuroses of our parents, and the first is obviously what it means to be normal. Dora doesn’t see herself as mentally handicapped in any way, taking offense when people call her names, and even crying when starting to realize she may not be the same as the others. Then there’s the matter of Peter – he actually rapes Dora the first time around, but what is the meaning of maintaining a sexual relation with someone that is not completely able to give consent, but seems to be enjoying it greatly? After all, aren’t we all entitled to have a sexuality in our own terms? It would be easy to paint him as a total villain, but Werenfels shies from the easy route, giving us the Peter that has fun with Dora, and protects her from the advances of third parties (though he was the first to invite the third party to take advantage of her, but still). And then there’s the character of Kristin – is this a matter of mother’s jealousy, as her husband insinuates? What does it mean for an older woman to see her daughter sexually happy while she struggles to fulfill that part of her life?
Filmed with inventiveness (Dora’s point of view is always brighter, soft focused), Dora’s greatest strength is undoubtedly its script and performances – both Schily and Schulz carry the film over their shoulders, and Schulz particularly creates incredible complexity on a type of character that is usually presented on a flat (and unflattering) way. Don’t be scared by its heavy theme. In the end, Dora is about love.
Dora will be screened as part of the East End Film Festival – for more information check http://www.eastendfilmfestival.com