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Tiny Lights (Svetylka)

We are invited to view the trials of a family through the eyes of their youngest member - Beata Parkanová’s inventive, thoughtful drama is in the Crystal Globe Competition of the 58th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival


Audiences are immediately transported into an idyllic, almost timeless period. As with her 2022 film The WORD (2022), there is a focus on family and relationships. This time, however, we step into smaller shoes in order to observe them. We follow six-year-old Amálka (Mia Bankó), who wanders around her house, playing with her cat, and looking perplexed by the almost inaudible argument happening beyond a closed door. Her curiosity gets the most of her, and she finds her mother Irena (Elizaveta Maximová) being scolded by her grandmother, Eva (Veronika Žilková). Only fragments of the dispute are heard, but once it is clear her parents have big issues going on she is taken to her grandparents for the day. From there, we follow Amálka’s growth through play, exploration, and ultimately familial strife.

The focus, thematically and physically, is Bankó. Curious, fun-loving, occasionally naughty, there is something so natural about her performance in front of Parkanová’s camera that it almost feels like a well-heeled documentary. The director keeps shots mostly at her level, with adults being shown at the waist or out of shot, bringing them (and us) into her world. It’s an effective use of perspective, allowing the audience to feel every shift in emotion from the child, from giggling at her grandparents to shifting awkwardly as her grandmother bristles against her mother. Through this, we piece together what is happening, and wonder what may come in the future.

It’s not always easy. Each character is not rounded enough to be sympathetic, but in a very short amount of time you get to know everyone involved in this story. We are forced to wonder and worry whether the strain felt in both Irena and Eva’s voice will carry on a generation when the wide-eyed, giggly girl we see becomes a woman. In between these moments, surreal montages are offered, hinting at the larger picture and appearing to be shot on 8mm film. It gives this unusual family history even more dimensions, and makes for a richer experience.

Of the adult cast, Žilková has the meatiest role. She is every part the doting grandmother, making Amálka smile and having a refreshingly honest disposition, never patronising the little one. However, this also leads to moments where she forgets children are listening, leading to loaded conversations about lateness, or not setting a plate for herself at the dinner table, explaining that she is “not into food today”. These little stray threads of narrative are enticing to latch onto, and perfectly delivered by the only adult in Amálka’s life who doesn’t seem to have something else on their mind.

Many films purport to offer a child’s point of view, only to deliver something stagey and unrealistic. Merging magical elements with relatable characters, Tiny Lights feels authentically rooted in the wonder of childhood, while scattering elements of something much more complicated.

Tiny Lights just premiered in the Crystal Globe Competition of the 58th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

By Victoria Luxford - 05-07-2024

London-born Victoria Luxford has been a film critic and broadcaster since 2007, writing about cinema all over the world. Beginning with regional magazines and entertainment websites, she soon built up...

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