This layered story of a troubled adoption is strong contender for the year’s best German-language genre film.
Katrin Gebbe’s unpredictable and genre-straddling sophomore feature, Pelikanblut (Pelican Blood) tells the story of single mother Wiebke (Nina Hoss), who decides to adopt five-year old Bulgarian orphan Raya (Katerina Lipovska). Her first adoptive daughter, Nikolina (Adelina-Constance Ocleppo), is initially thrilled at the prospect of welcoming another child into the household. However, things take a turn when Raya soon reveals herself to be a liability to herself and others. Could her violent outbursts and inability to forge empathetic connections be explained by a reactive attachment disorder, or could her increasingly worrisome behaviour have something to do with the Babadookian scribbles she decorates her bedroom walls with?
Gebbe proves she’s in complete control of her layered story and, most thrillingly, decides not to play it safe by admirably blending varying influences into her script to better show that trauma is never a monolithic experience. She daringly tackles the anguish felt by the protagonists through several genre lenses, gradually peppering the initially social-realist drama with tropes belonging to psychological thrillers and supernatural chillers. The ensuing mishmash invokes Lynne Ramsey’s We Need To Talk About Kevin as well as Nora Fingscheidt’s System Crasher, and while the final act may prove hard to swallow for some, Pelikanblut remains a strong contender for this year’s best German-language genre film.
Pelikanblut (Pelican Blood) / Directed by: Katrin Gebbe (Germany 2019), with Nina Hoss, Katerina Lipovska, Adelina-Constance Ocleppo. Starts September 24.