Coming-of-age summer films invariably conjure up images of sun-bleached hair, timid first love, endless boredom, and hours on end spent with unforgettable friends. A Knowing of Loss begins on the same wavelength, as a group of families bathe in a wild river, swing from a dried-out rope, and eat fresh watermelon in their swimming trunks. But this story stretches far beyond the concept of a formative period in which meaningful friendships or fresh points of view are forged, instead forcing our young protagonist, Max into a sudden (if rather understated) loss of innocence.
Max spends his summer at home, swimming with his friends, ankle-deep in mud playing football, or riding his prized motorcycle under the hot sun. His attention is first piqued when his father fails to return home for dinner, aroused further by the family car discarded by the side of the road whilst he is out biking alone. Max grows suspicious, channelling his anger into repairing his motorcycle, gradually spending more and more time away from the house, where his mother awaits with a pasta casserole.
In A Knowing of Loss, the summer months are the cruellest, during which the sweltering heat makes adolescent Max – still uncomfortable in his own skin – more restless and irritable. Biel’s cinematographic attention to detail is beautiful. In such a minimalistic film, small elements such as a fly – left to explore Max’s arm in his contentment, only to be cast off angrily when he begins to suspect foul play – carry a graver meaning, as indicators of Max’s plight. His friends notice it, as do his parents, who attempt in their individual ways to put him at ease: his mother by apologising for not being able to travel during the summer, blaming a lack of money; and his father, by suggesting they buy him a new motorcycle, further stretching the apparent gap already established between them.
Max is drowned, lost in what he doesn’t understand, what he overhears, what he sees at a distance. Biel refrains from offering up too much information, highlighting the uncertainty behind the parents’ whisperings downstairs, and adding an abstract quality to the film and to Max’s beliefs. Quiet and brutal all at once, A Knowing of Loss is, in the end, the tale of the harmful impact the lack of communication can have on a boy who has yet to come of age.
'A Knowing of Loss' was part of the Official Selection and winner of the Bronze Frame (3rd Prize) at Short Focus Film Festival 2021.