Everyone who reads this blog, can easily relate to the assumption on which Ulrich Köhler’s and Henner Winckler’s movie A voluntary year is based. We are all familiar to leave everything behind and seize one of our possible futures. And the movie is exactly about that.
The main character Jette is a twenty-something German girl who is just about to leave her village for a voluntary year in Costa Rica. The unexpected turn here is that her father Urs is way more sure about that than her. While she’s waving between her experience abroad and her boyfriend back home, Urs does everything in his power to push her on the plane to Central America. Therefore, when she runs from the airport’s gate, she starts a cat-and-mouse game with her to determine her own future.
Urs is not a bad guy. He cares about the others and he’s revered in his village for his efforts towards people in need. But the movie shows how sometimes he pushes his commitment too far. In the opening sequence, for example, he’s so worried about his brother not answering the phone that he ends up breaking in his apartment just to make sure he’s doing fine. His concern is genuine, but the way he puts his own ideas on top of others is unsettling. And he does just the same to his daughter. The future he pictures for her is the best future possible (at least in Urs’ mind). But it’s not what she wants and that makes her run away.
Leaving the nest
In a similar way, Roberto De Feo’s horror-thriller The Nest features a mother who tries to protect her son from the threats of the outside world. So she pushes him to fulfill an obscure “program” that is supposed to help him shaping his own future. It’s a love that is total, so total that prevents its object to be free. And the film depicts the effects of this feeling through its setting: a mansion as big and sumptuous as is cold and dark, while unspeakable secrets lurk behind its doors. Again, the mother’s behaviour is animated by the best intentions, but her son wants to see what the world can offer him. Preventing him to do that just turns the walls of his house into the bars of a cage.
As surrealistic as it may seem, flipping the expected situation between parents and children makes both movies to get straight to the point. You spend years in the safe embrace of your parents’ house, but sooner or later a doubt will hit you. Is there something more? No matter how safe it’s the place you were born in. No matter how much people there love you. It comes a time in which you will feel the need to hit the road, leaving home behind you and starting to grasp a future that it’s only yours. That’s usually when the love you have been experiencing all your life starts to show a different face.
Family vs Freedom
Love can be a safety net. Love can guarantee inclusion and well being. Love is the medicine that can heal your wounds. But love can easily turn in a powerful drug, as addictive as any other. It’s too easy to conceive this feeling as a leash that prevent its object to get too far. And this can come both from family and from a beloved one.
And not because they’re bad people, but because they care so much that they just stop see other’s own good. Being able to setting yourself free allows you to face life relying completely on your strength. It can be unsettling. It can be scary. But it’s the only way to face the coming of age and step into the grown-up world. One that can be cold and harsh, but nonetheless true. Because it’s based on one and only rule: you’re the only person accountable for both your decisions and your mistakes.
That’s why this can be done only on your own. Leaving your house, your country and all the small things that make you feel safe can be the best way to do it. Living in a place with no connections – a place where you can’t even understand the language – helps you find talents you never thought you had, developing skills that will help you facing adultness. Because truth doesn’t lie in safety. The truth is out there, between the twists and turns of the road that brings you far from home.