- Director: Sabrina Mertens
- Writer: Sabrina Mertens
- Stars: Zelda Espenschied, Miriam Schiweck, Freya Kreutzkam
As mental illness becomes a topic that is less taboo, more films seem to be willing to address the subject in a real way. First time feature writer/director Sabrina Mertens tackles this by sewing together fifty seven still life pictures of a family that is drowning in mental illness.
Taking place in 1970’s Germany, we meet young Stephanie while she plays a game with her mother. As the languid pace of the film progresses, we learn that Stephanie lives a life of severe isolation. It is just her and her parents in a small home that is slowly taken over by clutter. It’s almost like watching a slow motion episode of Hoarders. Stephanie’s mother seems to be in a state of arrested development: mentally, she is still a young girl herself, sharing a bed with her daughter, surrounded by dolls and playing games to pass the time. Meanwhile, the father has comfortably settled into a life of complacency and disinterest.
The role of Stephanie is played by two actresses, Zelda Espenchied and Miriam Schiweck, so we can see Stephanie through adolescence and her teen years, respectively. Both actresses do such a beautiful job of seamlessly inhabiting the character and moving through their small, isolated world with varying levels of awareness, sadness and anger. Because her mother and father barely do anything besides provide a roof over her head and food on her table, they do not have names and, quite frankly, that’s best because outside of the bare necessities, her father also provides a relationship built on mistrust and her mother supplies immaturity and instability.
The trouble with all of this instability is that Stephanie is a bright, young girl being unwillingly and unnecessarily stifled by her parents. While we are aware that the family does leave their home from time to time, we never travel with them and this lends to a heavy feeling of depressive claustrophobia. It is through things left by past family members that Stephanie finds an outlet of sorts for her feelings and boredom. Specifically, the remnants of butchery items that her grandfather left behind.
Fast forward ten years and Stephanie and her parents are still doing the exact same thing, but surrounded by more stuff. In fact, the attention to detail with clutter and hoarding is commendable. Unfortunately for our protagonist, the filth and disarray is something that she struggles with. Really, there are so many things she is forced to accept and live with that it isn’t too much of a surprise when we learn of her proclivity towards self harm while masturbating and her drawings that mix sex and cannibalism together. As Stephanie’s self harm begins to escalate to flirting with suicide, her house and her parents stay the same: disengaged and apathetic.
Time of Moulting is tricky because it absolutely captures the feeling of looking at pictures that were long forgotten in a thrift store. It’s like rifling through a stranger’s sad, depressing photo album and feeling thankful that you didn’t live their life. The cinematography is beautiful, the overall look and feeling of the movie is perfect for the subject matter and it’s inhabitants, but it’s certainly not a film for everyone. It is a slow moving 80 minutes and it’s debatable just how provocative and creative it really is. It’s also hard to feel any kind of way for such sad, milquetoast characters that seem to have no redeeming qualities. While I wanted to root for Stephanie, I found myself just as disinterested as her parents and perhaps that was Mertens’ intention, but it’s a bit disheartening to spend so much time with people only to find any kind of closure and relief in the appearance of the end credits.
Played as part of the Final Girls Berlin Film Festival