Searching Eva (2019) REVIEW | Berlinale 2019

"...it shows that identity is a process, and the millennial desire to be beyond binary norms of gender, sexuality, nationality and even self-knowledge is a kind of radical act."

Searching Eva film

The life of a sex worker is dreamily examined in Searching Eva, which expertly doubles up as a skilled portrait of the millennial generation. Mixing text with voiceover, fashion shoot-like portraiture with fly-on-the-wall observation, it’s a provocative and strange documentary that captures what it’s like to live outside the conventional norms of society.

Eva doesn’t don’t want to play by patriarchal rules. She sees sex work as a natural resistance to a sexist world, stating that “the patriarchy fucks me over every day, so I may as well get paid for it.” The film shares this frankness; lingering shots of her entire person replicating the viewpoint of those who pay for her body. It’s evident that the work pays her well — one message boldly stating that she makes more money from a blowjob than three days at Paris Fashion Week — allowing her to spend the majority of her time having fun, smoking weed and cigarettes, reflecting on her life and taking hard drugs. It’s all accompanied by her disjointed thoughts, ranging from the banal — why she doesn’t shave her armpits — to the deeply personal, such as her difficult past. Heavy on the “I” statements, she rarely seems concerned with the outside world.

If it all sounds too painfully millennial, Searching Eva appears in on the joke, using self-reflective messages selected from the internet to comment on her life. Some users question her life, mixing between pity and envy, while others ask her questions about their boyfriends and feeling comfortable in their body. Eva may be an alien to some people used to the nine to five grind and snuggling up on the weekend with a good Netflix series, yet she evidently connects with young alienated girls (and boys) on the internet.

It follows a non-linear structure, random jumps in time and place reflecting both the freedom and disorientation of Eva’s life. She lives in Berlin, yet we also see her on the beach by the Mediterranean, evidently on a fashion shoot, and at her childhood home in Italy, the town she longed to escape from. It’s all held together by her shapeshifting character — often wearing different wigs and outfits — constantly staring at the camera, daring us to judge her. It’s almost too easy to write her off as a pretentious floozy; her firm gaze daring us to actually imagine what it’s like in her shoes.

After all, sex work comes at a price, even in the supposedly liberal utopia of Berlin. Eva can pack nearly everything she owns in two bags, lugging them from flat to flat in the hope of finding a room. Searching Eva nails the WG (flat-sharing) culture of Berlin perfectly, seemingly good flat viewings leading to nowhere. In one painful sequence, she admits to a potential flatmate that she is a sex worker, appearing to nix any chance of getting a place. Additionally, drug use moves beyond the merely recreational into a far more dangerous realm. Her life is both aspirational — escaping the world of wage labour and fixed hours — and a warning. By not committing to either view, the audience are forced to reconsider the usual clichés of sex work in favour of a far more nuanced position.

By the end, Eva remains an enigma, as much a construction of her own words as a subject of the film’s meticulously arranged frames. If anything, it shows that identity is a process, and the millennial desire to be beyond binary norms of gender, sexuality, nationality and even self-knowledge is a kind of radical act. While it’s easy to fall into the trap of her detractors, it’s more worthwhile to give her the benefit of the doubt. As a result, I found Searching Eva immensely rewarding, even in its most baffling moments.

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