The TIFF Next Wave Film Festival is a small film festival run out of Toronto, and geared towards young adults ages fourteen to eighteen. The panel of judges who select the films are all up and coming filmmakers, film lovers, and critics in their own right. One of this year’s selections is a daring first feature film by 24-year-old German filmmaker Tali Barde. A reimaging of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, For No Eyes Only posits the computer screen as our voyeur’s tools. Thrusting its protagonist into a crime he should never have born witness to, For No Eyes Only forms an intelligent dialogue on the anxieties engulfing the world’s current generation of teenagers, as they miss out on the lessons of interpersonal relation as a result of a technological dependence that’s been there since birth.
Sam Anders (Benedict Sieverding) is bored. Finding himself physically limited due to a broken leg – the result of a floor hockey injury – he’s stuck at home for most of his day, bored out of his wits. To ease the “pain” of his stagnant days, he decides to hack his school’s online blackboard, gaining access to every classmate’s webcams. “Welcome to Germany’s weirdest home videos,” he proclaims proudly, scanning multiple screens at once. It isn’t until he catches the classmate responsible for his broken limb, Aaron (Tali Barde), hiding what looks like a bloody knife that he realizes he may be looking a little too closely. Catching a glimpse of what no one was meant to see sends Sam into a frenzied hunt to find out the truth about Aaron, and what he may be hiding.
Barde has created a remake of Hitchcock’s Rear Window with strong ties to contemporary anxieties about technological dependence, and the ramifications this has on today’s youth. Isolation, fear of communicating, anxieties about physical contact and approaching the opposite sex: all of the daily woes of adolescents, which are intelligently addressed under the new light of a digital age.
Unlike L.B. Jefferies in Rear Window, Sam is not wheelchair-bound, and is at liberty to leave his home. His boredom is more self-inflicted. In a digital age where entertainment is at our fingertips, and we live in front of our computers, it’s become unfathomable to live dislocated from technology. And so Sam finds comfort in the only way he knows how: “creeping.” Only Sam takes it beyond Facebook, moving away from closely monitoring status updates, and actually finds himself watching people endlessly. Whoever’s online. Whoever won’t notice.
Sam finds himself watching Livia (Luisa Gross). The object of his affections, she’s a girl he fantasizes about when alone, but hides from in person. While she terrifies and intimidates him – a feeling known well by adolescent males everywhere – he feels safe looking at her from behind a monitor. This way, there’s no rejection. There are no hurt feelings, and no bruised egos.
Such is the way we’ve come to communicate as a global society. There has been a drastic increase at least in the reporting of cyber-bullying, and online hate mail in the past five years. People are either becoming more honest, or more cowardly. I’m inclined to think it’s the latter. Barde has created a dialogue on this self-perpetuated isolation that awards everyone the right to say everything they think without any of the ramifications. Hurt feelings be damned, it’s so much easier to tell someone to kill themselves from behind a keyboard than to their face. What people never would have fathomed saying to one another they are now freely telling each other in Cyber Land – the place where everything is possible, and nothing is a reality.
Sam is living in a carefully padded cell of emotional reclusiveness. It isn’t until he starts spying on his friends and schoolmates that he realizes the significance of personal contact and genuine human interaction. He witnesses a first date gone awry, and a second chance gracefully given. A drunken mistake, a tender first dance, and a hard working classmate living up to unrealistic expectations. He witnesses kids being kids, and watches youth unfold before his eyes. While he’s staring at his computer screen, alone.
Livia becomes a beautiful touchstone for Sam, forcing herself into his life like a sledgehammer. Asking for tutoring help, Sam fumbles his reaction, coming off as irritated and put off by having to help the outspoken girl. In reality, he’s trying to keep her away. Like all adolescent boys, he has no idea what to do with her! And she has no idea what kind of effect she has on him. Unfortunately, due to his self-imposed isolation, he’s less equipped than most to handle the normal neuroses that come with learning about the opposite sex.
Their awkward Pas De Deux is sweet and tender, and at the same time sad. Sieverding’s Sam is reminiscent of every boy who ever asked me out in high school. Awkward, sweating buckets, stuttering and slurring his words. It’s sweet, and endearing. His performance is perfect. What’s sad is the generation gap that presents itself in the form of this self-imposed isolation. Teenagers don’t interact the same way they used to. They seem more inclined to ignore each other in person because they feel more secure hiding behind Facebook. As a result, people quite like Sam are missing out on a fundamental aspect of human connection. Things have changed, and not entirely for the better.
Gross is impressive as the forceful Livia. It’s no wonder Sam’s intimidated. Intelligent, pretty, outspoken and honest, she’d terrify boys even if they didn’t have technology to buffer their egos!
For a feature film debut, and considering his age, this is a wonderful achievement for Barde. Remakes and adaptations are a risky choice, especially for newcomers. Thankfully, it’s a decision that’s paid off here. While highly derivative, his visual style is cohesive, and his editing is impressive. He’s added in some cute Easter eggs from some of his favourite pieces, including a clever nod to Dexter’s credit sequence, and Hitchcock himself. Barde’s managed to create an intelligent resurfacing of one of a master craftsman’s best films. Add in some on-the-nose referencing to Germany’s stringent laws on surveillance, 1984, and the film’s excellent dialogue on the changing face of communication, and For No Eyes Only adds up to an excellent first feature.
The TIFF Next Wave Film Festival runs from Friday, February 14th until Sunday the 16th, when For No Eyes Only will screen at 1:30pm. Tickets are available online or at the TIFF Bell Lightbox box office.