Daria Kaschcheeva’s short film “Electra” (2024) is a puckish, thrilling mishmash of stop-motion and live-action, stirring into effect both a discombobulating and liberating experience. There’s a great reserve of grief and tragedy at its core, which the film circumvents with its hyper-playful approach. It cuts through two seemingly disparate styles to fully articulate the emotional and mental world of its titular protagonist.

The film’s experience may be sporadically jarring and deliberately disorienting, but its immanent ruptures effectively evoke the character’s consciousness and memories riven by layers of discomfort and dissociation. Disjunctions and splintered styles are the conduits through which a clear emotional association with the character is established. The route may be circuitous, but nevertheless, the film hits like a blow.

As “Electra” recounts her tenth birthday, the film instantly dissolves into a freefalling form, combining aesthetic mischief with piercing emotional candor. The whimsical spirit fuses with the narrative’s plangent examination of trauma, body dysmorphia, and the precarity lodged within a sexual coming-of-age. The crumbly, aching heart and the flashy exterior meld together into a disconcertingly mesmeric mix in this film. The dolls Electra played with as a kid returned in mannequin size to hold a teasing conversation.

Scenes from childhood and adolescence prop up. There are no boundaries delineating the leap between the present and the past. These jumps back and forth are frenzied, dizzyingly imagined, and spectacularly fluid. This is a profoundly cuttingly self-reflexive work, scavenging through the deep pits of despair, loathing, self-directed resentment, and dregs of shame. There’s the teenage urge to have the perfect bangs and the perfect breasts.

Electra, Valerija (2024) ‘Vienna Shorts’ Review
A still from “Valerija” (2024)

The quest for such slowly reveals itself as damaging and debilitating. Fraught relationships with parents also come into the picture. The film stages a journey of acknowledgment and confession, driving a lurch towards some sort of climb out of the hollowing self-rejection and the immensity of body image issues.

A technical playfulness also characterizes Sara Jurincic’s short, “Valerija,” which marks a stunning apotheosis of a hybrid documentary. Along with her mother, the director undertakes a trip to a remote island. They traverse the breadth of a graveyard, searching for the director’s grandmother, Valerija’s tomb. This relation, however, is spelled out only in the very epilogue.

For most of the wordless film, a reliance on a motley of perspectives and techniques supplants traditional narrative attempts to underline an emotional thread binding the director with her female ancestors. Jurincic’s style is indefinably loose and adventurous in its outlook, as well as unflinchingly oriented to a female legacy in a direct disavowal of reading lineage with a paternal bent. This breach is critical, empowering, and deeply affirmative.

Stylistic ease embedded in the film enables a purposefully destabilizing effect, even as the camera frequently fixates on insects crawling out of crevices. The world of “Valerija” brims with a pure feminine affect. No man appears. Such an omission is refreshing and freeing, letting us imagine a fleeting, miniaturized world where repressed emotions, across generations, are reclaimed and owned, silently but passionately.

Valerija and Electra screened at the Vienna Shorts Festival 2024.

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