“Made in Ash” by Iveta Grófová

Made in Ash follows the current trend of blending fiction, documentary and animation into one coherent piece. The documentary style yields a genuine naturalism, in one particular scene was used a mobile phone to shoot it with incredible sense for tension.

Slovakian cinema has finally been put back on the film map. After years of struggle and local productions, the country´s borders have been overcome by the film House (directed by Zuzana Liová). In the wake of once more regained power and confidence to produce a film destined to become internationally acclaimed, emerging new talent, Iveta Grófová, shows up with her feature debut Made in Ash. Tremendous success for a longtime overlooked tiny country in the heart of Europe.

Made in Ash scooped a handful of awards and is still riding the festival circuit. Someone might say that the film possess qualities just adjusted to the arthouse formula: formalistic approach, social issues and pinch of tragedy. An array of aspects unknown to Slovakian cinema since New Wave happened there. Perspective filmmakers tend to rise from documentary diaspora which is an amusing paradox. So is the story of Made in Ash, originally intended as a docu-piece on where young Slovakian girls end up when they sail away abroad to make a decent living. However, during the shooting process, the director found out that there is actually much more to say.

So begins the story of Dorothy, freshly out of high school whose family cannot afford to keep her under one roof due to extremely low income (meaning no income as the family is on social welfare). When the social-economical status of their daughter changes from gold mine (as they were eligible to receive welfare for her as unprovided dependant) to burden, she is hastily kick out of home to make her own living. Leaving her boyfriend behind with the promise of faithfulness, she embarks on a journey into the unknown. It turns out, she has been provided with a job in Czech Republic as a needlewoman.

She comes to Aš, small town on the verge of German borders which capitalism left completely intact. Actually, it looks like living museum of communist era there. Nevertheless, the troubles are just around the corner as soon as she is fired from the job. No money, no accommodation and left alone in a hostile world. She is about to face some unflattering choices for the future. A little hint, profiting from the closeness to the advanced West, Aš is a paradise for elderly German gentlemen with fat wallets A.K.A. sugar-daddies.

Made in Ash follows the current trend of blending fiction, documentary and animation into one coherent piece. The documentary style yields a genuine naturalism, in one particular scene was used a mobile phone to shoot it with incredible sense for tension. The animation parts serve as introspection into protagonist´s mind and it is a distinguished alternative for internal monologue. And the fiction binds them all into social drama meets psychological portrait. The film functions well also in the context of coming of age dramas as the growing up in Aš is especially bitter pill to swallow. Iveta Grófová also plays with the theme of border crossing in whichever sense the audience is willing to interpret it. There is some physical trespassing as moral one into the extent resembling Seidl´s docudrama Import/Export. The director shuns any explicitness whatsoever using an unconventional camera angles or image distortion. Moreover, the narrative structure has been built upon a fairy-tale paradigm employing several of notorious codes thus becoming a modern (social) fable. Couple of inter-textual similarities could not be overlooked as those of Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz.

Alice and Dorothy pose as inseparable figures in the context of growing-up and facing the threats of life. Nonetheless, Made in Ash proved to be a well-thought and well-structured piece of social (fairy) drama seconded by an extraordinary camerawork, intriguing lighting and transtextual crossover overshadowing some montage discrepancies.

Review by Martin Kudláč