Nikias Chryssos, a winner of the Young German Cinema Award for directing and screenwriting, directed A Pure Place (2021) and co-wrote the screenplay with Lars Henning Jung. The film takes place on a remote Greek island in the Mediterranean. An island cult community led by religious fanatic Fust (Sam Louwyck), inhabits the island. The film touches upon soap, cult dynamics, and the contrast between light and dark. Purity is their ideology and soap is the physical representation of purity.
The film centers on siblings, Irina (Greta Bohacek) and Paul (Claude Heinrich) who resort to child labor crafting soap for Fust. When he notices Irina’s beauty, he takes her upstairs to live among his people and assigns her a role in the play he is directing. Fust's grandiose vision of cleansing the world of dirt and impurity is the focus of the play. Fust suspects Siegfried (Daniel Sträber) is too close to Irina during rehearsals. As they perform tensions soar, resulting in a dramatic ending. Paul is on a mission of revenge, while Irina suspects that Fust has ulterior motives. Consequently, a conspiracy is hatched to bring down their oppressor.
A Pure Place presents a remarkable contrast between light and dark with cinematography by Yoshu Heimrath. There is a disparity between Fust’s pristine community and the children’s environment below. The pure people live upstairs in an idyllic, picturesque part of the island, whereas the children live downstairs in a gloomy factory basement. The individuals upstairs wear white clothing and live in a beautifully lit, clean, and luxurious home, while the children wear earth-toned garments, and the lighting is dim and dark. There is a noticeable physical separation between the pure and impure. An example of this disparity lies in the contrast between the streets of Athens and the perfectly remote and aesthetic Greek island.
There are two sides to everything: pure and impure, rich and poor, light and dark, and the film captures each perspective evenly. Good versus evil, or light opposing darkness, is a prominent subject in film. Light represents freedom in Fust’s cult, while people on the ground, living in deplorable conditions, are regarded as bad, impure, or something to be ashamed of. The film depicts the repressive nature of the class structure as well as an authoritarian cult leader’s abuse of power. Fust’s cult ideology is to purify the world of dirt and scum, or rather eradicate it. The cult maintains this obsessive idea that purity is good and that dirt, or those from the earth, are repulsive.
The use of soap is a key element portrayed in the film. The soap is made by the child factory workers, which Fust and his adherents bathe religiously. In Fust’s view, soap cleanses externally and internally, purifying the soul. The community looks to a higher power for guidance and followers are alienated if their values and beliefs waiver. Fust’s followers desire acceptance, so they perform rituals to honor their leader and goddess to attain it.
The dialogue is the best component of the film. Often, Fust claims that he was born to rid the world of dirt; later in the film, the brave and strong-willed Paul proclaims he is dirt and wishes to rid the world of purity. The juxtaposition of those two lines demonstrates how each follower feels about their place and purpose in the world. Paul, a young boy, maintains dignity and strength even in the face of hatred and adversity. “Without dirt, there is no soap,” Paul adds, implying that Fust’s community could not exist if it weren’t for his people.
The performance by Heinrich was also impressive. It touched me deeply. I was struck by Paul’s courage. He is one of the few children who vehemently opposes Fust and his cruelty. Paul strikes back if he feels you have harmed him or his sister in any way. He has a strong sense of justice and will protect those he cares about without hesitation. His strength is shown when Paul delivers a speech to the factory children to raise their spirits. It was impressive to witness Heinrich perform with such conviction and intensity.
A Pure Place makes a direct statement about class systems, oppression, and cult dynamics. Chryssos incorporates Greek mythology and the complexities of how class systems are built and maintained. The cinematography, excellent production design by Marcel Beranek, and Spyros Laskaris’ art direction of this independent effort made the film an enjoyable experience.