Review by Camden Ferrell
Lillian premiered at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. This drama is directed by Austrian director Andreas Horvath. This film tells a wildly ambitious and meditative story, but it can often be too slow-moving for its own good.
This movie is a modern-day adaptation of the remarkable true story of Lillian Alling. Alling was an immigrant in the U.S. who attempts to travel back to her home country on foot from New York to Russia. In this movie, the protagonist attempts the same journey after she can’t find work as an adult film star. This is a really intriguing premise, and its one that is enigmatic, and that’s what makes it succeed on a thematic front.
Horvath’s minimalist script focuses mostly on the actions and motivations of the main character. He communicates her emotions in a creative way due to the narrative restrictions of the film. It’s an overly simple story that should not have worked at all, but Horvath somehow makes it something worth watching for the spectacle.
In her first leading role, Patrycja Planik delivers an astounding performance. She is the driving force behind this movie, and it’s highly engaging. What is so impressive about her performance is that she doesn’t say a single word in the entire movie. It’s a performance that fully relies on her actions, expressions, and interactions with other characters. It’s remarkable how she can carry this film without speaking, and it is a perfect showcase for Planik’s talents.
It’s quite astonishing how well the film utilizes the landscapes and terrains of the country. It portrays the grandiose and overwhelming sensation of nature that makes us appreciate it more. However, Horvath knows how to manipulate the camera to make certain aspects of nature evoke specific emotions, and it’s quite interesting to sense the contrasting aspects. Ultimately, this film is partly about nature, the American frontier and all of its beautiful yet intimidating glory.
This movie also illustrates the struggles and loneliness that may be a product of this country. Some sections of the movie drag on a long time to truly illustrate just how isolated we can feel at times. It’s fairly self-indulgent and off-putting, but it isn’t entirely in vain. The movie will balance this feeling out with the numerous interactions the protagonist has with people as she goes from state to state.
Unfortunately, this film feels very flawed at times. It seems to use Planik’s performance as a crutch more times than not. She has a captivating screen presence, but it sometimes feels like its masking self-aggrandizing execution. Many scenes needlessly drag on too long, and it really tests your patience at times. While as a whole, it has a lot to say, there are many sections in this movie that feel rather empty.
Horvath’s newest film is a thematic triumph even if it doesn’t always maintain interest. It says a lot about humanity, nature, and the spirit of one determined woman, but its execution isn’t always the best. This is a daring film with a phenomenal lead performance, and it may be worth checking out for its ambition.
Lillian is screening at the 2020 Slamdance Film Festival which runs January 24-30 in Park City, UT.