Film festivals are a challenge for writers like me. I generally choose the films I watch after some research, selecting titles because either I think I will like them or because I think they might be important in helping me understand film culture a bit better – including the culture that produces the film. Of course, this leaves out many films that I might enjoy but it means that it is rare that I’m faced with a film that I find difficult to engage with. But at festivals there are certain choices that you can’t always make. Papa Gold is one of the six films in competition as a New European Feature and I found it hardgoing. It’s not my kind of film but I still have to try to be fair to it.
The central character Denny (played by writer-director Tom Lass) is a young man living in Berlin. One day Frank (well played by Peter Trabner) turns up. “Do I know you?” asks Denny. “I’m your mother’s second husband” comes the reply. Frank tells Denny that he now has a half-sister and suggests that he might want to visit and meet her. Frank pressurises Denny into letting him stay, even though it’s only a one-room flat and Denny spends most of his time with a seemingly endless supply of young women – requiring Frank to move out “for a couple of hours or so”. Frank puts up with this because his mission is to persuade Denny to return home and see his mother and new baby sister. It will take us some time to discover why Denny hasn’t been home for so long.
The blurb on the film’s website (it’s made by an independent company set up by the director and his brother who also appears in the film) suggests that Denny is a student. I’m assuming that it is the summer holiday in Berlin, but Denny doesn’t seem interested in anything apart from young women. Frank seems to think that his new stepson needs therapy of some sort and tries to organise it himself. IMDB suggests that the film is a comedy. If there are comic moments, they arise because of Frank’s well-meaning attempts to win Denny round and how they go wrong. I thought this was all rather sad and I don’t remember laughing. I remember also reading a comment that suggested the tagline “Who will mature first” –which sums up one reading of the plot.
The budget was said to be only €2,500 and if so, the production is a major achievement. Using a Google translation, I’ve found one German website that suggests most of the film was improvised and then rehearsed. The writer praises the film as a ‘fresh take’ on the coming-of-age film and indeed the film has already won an award at a German festival. If anything, Papa Gold felt like an American Independent to me. If I was more familiar with so-called ‘slacker films’ I’d know if that was an appropriate reference. But the ones I have seen were more enjoyable than this. Papa Gold runs for only 77 minutes which doesn’t leave much space for any of the female characters (the mother remains invisible) which is a shame because it is Denny’s inability to make any emotional contact with women that remains the central issue in the film. I’ll be interested to hear what the Bradford judges think of it, especially Joanna Hogg and Wendy Ide. They’ll probably like it more than I did!