Austrian director Ulrich Seidl’s Sparta is a very difficult film to watch. It tackles one of the worst crimes of our times– pedophilia—with gentleness and sensitivity, which, perhaps, the subject doesn’t deserve,and we don’t want to see.
Who wants to watch a 40-year old man struggling not to let his basic instinct to have sex with children get the better of him?
This is precisely why Sparta a watchable film. It addresses the unthinkable, adumbrates the unmentionable. It deep-dives into the pedophile Ewald( Georg Friedrich)’s subconscious, tries to create a cordon of empathy for the twisted despicable man just because he controls his perverse urges and frolics freely with children in Translyvania .
There are many sequences in this very troublesome film where little boys are seen playing showering and sleeping next to Ewald.In one particularly indigestible sequence Ewald is fully naked prancing around with the kids with his genitals on display while the kids are in their underwear. Apparently these scenes were shot without the kids being aware of what was being insinuated. The parents of the children were apparently not informed that this was a film about a pedophile.All for art’s sake,of course.
We are supposed to admire Ewald for being an EVOLVED pedophile as compared with a DEBASED pedophile who would have probably taken advantage of the kids while pretending to teach them judo.
The director goes to great lengths to establish that Ewald is not like that,that he has gone beyond his twisted unnatural urges to give these underprivileged kids the opportunity to be sporty in an environment safer then their poverty affords.
This is where Sparta gets really vexing. Should we even consider feeling sorry for this closeted sociopath just because he doesn’t molest these children around him?
Understandably this film’s moral compass is completely askew, and proudly so. Writer-director Ulrich Seidl is unapologetic in his empathy for Ewald whom he sees as a pitiable man fighting his inner demons. That he triumphs over his depravity is something that is uncomfortably laudable in Sparta.
The monstrous political incorrectness of the theme pushes further into a dense jungle of moral ambiguity by showing the kids being relatively safer in Ewald’s citadel.Some of the boys are shown to have conveniently brutal fathers.
I would have considered empathizing with Ewald had he not chosen to present himself fully naked before little kids. The shooting of these scenes is as problematic to watch as they were to shoot. The film’s maker faced multiple child-abuse allegations during the shooting .Ultimately the question, should we feel sympathy for a pedophile for his kindness towards children, is not even worth addressing.