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Review: “My Queen Karo,” a commune coming-of-age.

Review: “My Queen Karo,” a commune coming-of-age. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival.

Like those pictures that can be interpreted as either a vase or the silhouettes of two lovers, “My Queen Karo” might be a young girl’s coming of age story set in a squatters commune, or it might be the tale of the disintegration of a squatters commune as seen through the eyes of a child. It’s a far better, if uneasier, film for this fluctuation in focus than if it settled for a more conventional route down only one of those paths.

For instance: There’s a scene in which Karo’s mother Dalia, who’s been struggling with how to deal with the new lover that Raven, Karo’s father, has taken, approaches the couple as they’re getting frisky on a large shared mattress. She disrobes, and they cautiously welcome her into their embrace. And then Karo, through whose point of view everything unfolds, loses interest and, though we might crane our necks trying to keep watching the bohemian threesome, trots off to entertain herself with the constellation pattern made when she shines a flashlight through the fabric of her ratty bathing suit. She understands that her parents have been fighting, and that this moment represents a tentative, temporary truce. She doesn’t know that the very arrangement, not to mention the fact that a ten-year-old girl is witnessing it, would be enough to give some people heart palpitations.

04062010_myqueenkaro5.jpgIt’s the ’70s, and Karo, Dalia and Raven move to Amsterdam from Belgium, a uprooting echoing a similar one in director Dorothée Van Den Berghe’s childhood. Dalia (“L’enfant”‘s Déborah François), young and a little fragile, is in love with Raven. Raven (Matthias Schoenaerts), a handsome, charismatic artist, is in love with the whirling ideals of the era. They and their friends set up a utopian living arrangement in which everything — including sleeping, squabbles, sex, childcare and drug use — takes place in the open, in one giant communal room. This idealistic casting off of the bounds of convention begins causing problems almost instantly, when Raven meets the free-spirited Alice (Maria Kraakman) and welcomes her into the fold despite Dalia’s objections.

Raven’s a knotty character, someone who likes to use his own enthusiastic embrace of countercultural objectives as a bludgeon in his personal life. “We came here to be free, and already you’re laying down rules?” he sniffs at a devastated Dalia when she requests monogamy. And yet he is a true believer, a genuine activist and a magnetic one — he’s even able to pull Karo, who feels very protective over Dalia, to his side. Karo, played by the boyish Anna Franziska Jaeger, is realistically childlike in not always charming ways — she’s capricious and half-feral, runs away, throws tantrums and acts out. In a place where every potential authority figure has already tossed out all the rules, there’s a disquieting amount of room for her to roam unattended.

04062010_myqueenkaro2.jpgAnd yet… while “My Queen Karo” doesn’t offer anything like a seal of approval for the rickety lifestyle it portrays, it refuses to condemn the whole doomed, starry-eyed enterprise either. There are many moments of unfettered joy, from the arrivals tossing down their giant mattress in their new squat and bounding onto it, home at last, to the camera that stays with Karo as she’s on the swing, keeping on her happy face as the world swirls behind her. Maybe the film’s best read as a universal coming of age after all: Karo’s forced, earlier than most, to deal with the realization that her parents are flawed and far from infallible, while her parents and their compatriots have to face the fact that people come up with rules and build walls for a reason.

“My Queen Karo” is currently without U.S. distribution.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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