Friday, 25 January 2008

The Heart is a Dark Forest

Nicolette Krebitz’s new film at its premiere in Hamburg, December 2007.

reviewed by Wiebke Gronemeyer

I didn’t really know what to expect, apart from assuming that Nicolette Krebitz’s second movie as a director would communicate across the grain from the usual event-movies of the young Berlin-school, as she already proved with her debut feature Jeans. My overall expectations for The Heart is a Dark Forest oscillated between anticipating a heavy romantic story and at the same time doubting that Jonathan Meese, only covered with a loincloth descending from the Cross as Jesus (or at least Jesus-like), could appear somehow romantic. It doesn’t, due to a beneficial lack of an overarching harmonious scheme; every scene in this film acts like a piece of a jigsaw-puzzle: at first it seems to fit everywhere but in fact fits nowhere; however, in the end, there is only one position; then, the moment, in which it is fitted, its particularity disappears and it is yet only one piece out of many.

This sense is reflected in the story of Marie (Nina Hoss), a mother of two, living in a typical middle-class bungalow with her husband, Thomas (Devid Striesow), who is a musician in the local symphonic orchestra. One morning she prepares breakfast for her husband and two children. An egg breaks on the floor. My attention has to adjust to the speed of the action, there is little to witness, little of what you would rather expect to happen on a stage than in your living room. The camera angle is as slow and without focus as Marie’s face is without any expression other then disorientation, boredom and lassitude. Short split screens show Marie and Thomas talking to each other, staged as a rehearsal for a theatre play. Marie is researching her relationship with her husband by imagining those clarifying communications, which seem to never have happened. If they had, maybe she wouldn’t have needed to cross the city of Hamburg by bike following her husband in order to give him his violin, as he had taken the case, in which his daughter had exchanged the violin for her puppet. Marie stops, where his car stops, but this is not in front of the music hall, but in front of another, very similar middle-class bungalow. Another, very similar young mother of a child opens the door. And on another, very similar breakfast table her husband sits and enjoys his second family breakfast that same morning.

These first ten minutes full of abstract scenes tell everything about this partnership and its complicity and let me think of this as a critical engagement with the perfidity of relationships in German bourgeois society. But this inherent criticism is not imposed on the story, rather, the at first assumed notion of a romantic relationship is deconstructed and at the same time the again romantic notion of Marie fighting for her relationship or evolving from this experience to emancipation could be established by the viewer. This change in style oscillating between romanticism, tragedy and the reference to a society’s reality continues and demonstrates Krebitz’s sensibility and set of filmic possibilities.

Marie is the centrepiece in this drama, which as she tries to orientate herself evolves into a surreal version of a contemporary Medea. In the evening of that same day she attends a masked ball. She roams around the inside and outside of a solitary castle, in which twenty masquerades celebrate, her husband included. By referencing Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut Krebitz fables a revery-like situation, Marie’s mental breakdown, which only leads to one possible end.

Throughout the whole film Marie’s eyes are strangely wide open, but only slowly throughout the film they seem to discover the function of seeing, the sense of perceiving. Krebitz’s work is about opening eyes, portraying a private, individual story behind which general assumptions emanate. In this sense it functions as a piece of sociological research about gender. To whom is Krebitz proposing this inventory?

By letting Marie decide over her life and the ones of her children, her position in the puzzle of scenes and situations is defined. The reading of this end and the film as a whole contains the possibility of either preserving a surreal romantic notion, or destroying it. Hence, as always it is a question of interpretation. But, as Marie observes and questions: “Have you ever asked yourself in a dream: have I just dreamed this or is it true?”

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