In “Holly”, Cathalina Geeraerts plays a friend who wishes you well


Behind its façade of an “indie” film, chronicling the life of a high school student feeling bad about herself, whose mother, unemployed and depressed, spends her life on the sofa, Holly , by Flemish director Fien Troch ( Home , 2016) , surprises with its metaphorical story which branches off towards mourning and the marvelous. In competition in Venice, in 2023, this drama suggests, while casting doubt, that its heroine has the almost miraculous gift of relieving people of their sorrows. Holly, 15, is endowed with a power that goes beyond her: she becomes a local celebrity, despite herself, in a Belgian town where we can mainly see a few towers, a public garden and the high school.

If this wacky story holds up, it is first of all thanks to the young actress, beginner, Cathalina Geeraerts, who does not seek to play a saint or a witch but works a range of sadness tinged with sudden brightenings – her performance earned him the acting prize at the Mostra.

Tight shots show us the candor of Holly, mocked by the other students, whose only friend is Bart, a boy with untimely behavior – played by Felix Heremans, suffering from neurodivergence. The teenager does not open up easily, expressing herself with her mouth which she twists a little and also with her eyes, infinitely blue, filled with love for her neighbor – a surreal posture avoiding sentimentality.

Naturalism and kitsch atmosphere

The film opens with tragedy. One morning, Holly is not feeling well, calls the school to notify her of her absence, and reports that she senses danger. A few hours later, thick smoke rose above the school building. Around ten students died in the fire.

A teacher who volunteers then suggests that Holly take part in an outing with the bereaved parents. She accepts, her listening and her words bring unexpected comfort to the families, to the point that some of them will continue to consult her, as one would ask an oracle for news of a deceased person.

The film thus revolves in a curious mixture of naturalism and kitsch atmosphere, watching for possible mutations in Holly, through the inquisitive gaze of her teacher – the young girl often appears alone in the shot, even when she is speaking to another protagonist. By performing miracles, Holly herself could change her skin, take off from her social environment…

But the scenario invents something between the lines, around the figure of the vampire: by dint of giving her person, such is the need for consolation, the adolescent could empty herself of her substance, or even die out. Holly is perhaps a new breed of zombie film, anchored in reality, with its share of undead clinging to a few fireflies…

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