Milk Teeth


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Milk Teeth
"This is a splendid exercise in world building. Bösch gives us everything we need to believe in this place and understand the character dynamics, but does not stray beyond that."

They look just like normal children, we are told, but they’re malicious, they steal from humans and they bring bad luck. They want to live among humans, so their parents abduct human children and leave them behind in their place. The only way to find them out is to look into their mouths, where they have small teeth which never fall out.

To the townspeople, the fear of wolf children is very real, especially in light of recent attacks on their animals. They have been combing the woods and just don’t understand how anybody could be getting back and forth across their borders undetected. They do know about the girl, however. Small, sullen, she arrived on the proximity of their settlement dressed in furs, filthy and bruised. Skalde (Mathilde Bundschuh), who found her, rejected her at first, but then had a change of heart. The girl says that she has come from across burned fields. Is she just a refugee from some calamity, or is she something else?

“Put that thing into a sack with some stones and throw it into the river,” one of Skalde’s neighbours advises.

Sophia Bösch’s adaptation of Helene Bukowski’s novel strips away many of the secondary themes – most notably the strange weather – to focus on core ideas about belonging and the tension between developing civilisation and defending it. Although it may take viewers a while to get their bearings in a bucolic environment where many things have remained the same for a very long time, it gradually becomes apparent that the story is set in the future, that the civilisation with which we are familiar is long gone and the townspeople are on their own. Expressed through their actions and also through the atmosphere that Aleksandra Medianikova’s cinematography Gina Keller’s discomfiting sound design create, the threat out there, though never specified, feels real.

This is a splendid exercise in world building. Bösch gives us everything we need to believe in this place and understand the character dynamics, but does not stray beyond that. This keeps our focus in the right place and reflects the ignorance of most of the characters. Skalde, a second generation immigrant, has never been beyond the border. Her mother is careful what she says, and her damaged hand illustrates the price she has paid in the past when struggling to fit in – these are people who dispense justice with a mallet. They are also, however, people who laze around in beer gardens on summer afternoons, wearing clothes that wouldn’t look out of place today – or in the 1940s – exuding a comfortable middle class German-ness which can be pleasant or terrifying depending on who one is.

The film is beautifully cast, right down to the extras, who perfectly capture that ambiguity, that ability to flip in an instand from warm and welcoming to dangerous. Over time, misfortunes occur, as they might anywhere, but now they are ascribed to the influence of the girl. How far will Skalde go to protect her? Bösch ratchets up the tension in a film which will haunt you for quite some time after the credits roll.

Milk Teeth screened at the 2024 Glasgow Film Festival.

Reviewed on: 12 Apr 2024
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Milk Teeth packshot
Trouble brews for a young woman and her mother after they take in a foundling youngster against the wishes of their community.

Director: Sophia Bösch

Writer: Sophia Bösch, Roman Gielke, based on the book by Helene Bukowski

Starring: Mathilde Bundschuh, Susanne Wolff, Viola Hinz

Year: 2024

Runtime: 97 minutes

Country: Germany


Glasgow 2024

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