Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
Original Title: Der Wald vor lauter Bäumen
Germany, 2003. Komplizen Film, Sudwestrundfunk, KaufmannWöbke GbR, Hochschule für Fernsehen und Film München, Rat Pack Filmproduktion, Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe, FilmFernsehFonds Bayern, Filmforderungsanstalt, Filmförderung Baden-Württemberg. Screenplay by Maren Ade. Cinematography by Nikolai von Graevenitz. Produced by Janine Jackowski. Music by Nellis Du Biel, Ina Siefert. Production Design by Claudia Schölzel. Costume Design by Gitti Fuchs. Film Editing by Heike Parplies. Toronto International Film Festival 2004.
Don’t be turned off by the hideous early digital video that this movie was shot on; it may look like an amateur home video, but it’s the darkly funny feature debut by Maren Ade that established her talent for capturing unease that she displays so beautifully in her later masterpiece, Toni Erdmann. Eva Löbau is terrific as Melanie, a young woman who has graduated teacher’s college and come to a new town to start her first job, filled to the brim with Fraulein Maria-level confidence and cheer. Her chipper demeanor is quickly subjected to indifference from her fellow teachers and disrespect from the rowdy students she can’t for a moment control, while her attempt at a private life is no better. Befriending Tina, the woman who lives across her courtyard, Melanie goes from friendly chats to constantly needing validation in no time, painfully bad at reading the room every time Tina tries to either be generous or severe with her. This kind of ironic discomfort isn’t easy to watch in a film, but Ade makes it easy to swallow thanks to the generous levels of humour she applies to a character you both sympathize with and loathe: as much as she fails with the students, you do want to see her give them as good as she gets while at the same time hoping she’ll learn a lesson from her failures with Tina. Through Lobau’s terrific performance and Ade’s skillful writing, we quickly realize that a character who presents herself as good-natured and self-sacrificing is actually wholly dishonest with herself and others, using her more upbeat qualities not as a way to be generous to others but actually to avoid facing her own flaws. Ade gets a lot across in 80 short minutes, and offers no easy solutions in the daring conclusion.