Pia Hellenthal’s debut documentary feature explores the life of Eva Collé, a free-spirited twentysomething who moved away from her conservative Italian hometown for a hedonistic new chapter in Berlin. Sex work and modelling become her source of income, even if she states she doesn’t want to work as she rejects the label that will define her as a particular type of worker. Collé also becomes an online influencer, sharing every detail of her life with enthralled followers, one of them even going so far as to sycophantically call her a “post-modern Joan of Arc”.
Please take a moment to finish your cringe.
This essay film had the potential to be an examination of how we are conditioned to reductively fall back on binary norms, especially when it comes to gender and sexuality, and how online culture can be both blessing and curse. Searching Eva is formally interesting – especially in the way it visually depicts social media as a constant and encroaching presence on daily life – and does laudably aim to be a frank depiction of sexual identity, one which touches upon drug use and mental illness. Some may find plenty to get on board with here, and even manage to dig out a commentary on the Instagram generation. Eva does seem to inspire others to live their most authentic lives, so more power to them. However, the end result feels hollow. Searching Eva yearns to be brutally earnest and simultaneously in on the joke. One scene in particular and its needle drop – a cover of the Bee Gees’ “I Started A Joke” – suggests there could be a minimum amount of self-reflexion. However, it’s an isolated beat that’s too short-lived to leave a mark, and ultimately goes nowhere. What you’re left with comes off as a tired snapshot of Berlin hedonism, stuffed with pseudointellectual bunkum masquerading as well-earned discernment, and ultimately, a cringey portrait of late-millennial narcissism.
Searching Eva | Directed by Pia Hellenthal (Germany 2019). Starts Nov 14.
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