Why This Director?: I was generally planning to avoid small filmographies, but Toni Erdmann looks so good and I wanted to catch up on her. Plus, more women directors!
My Last Experience Was…: None.
What Did I Watch: Both Forest for the Trees and Everyone Else, the only movies she has available to the general public.
Where Does She Fit: Forest for the Trees was a student film that very quickly got promoted to “this counts as part of her filmography and should not be brushed aside” status when it was accepted for festivals. Good for Ade, because this is one of the most slowly terrifying films ever. We start off with a woman introducing herself to her new neighbors, played with terrific awkwardness by Eva Lobau. She has just moved into a new apartment to become a teacher at a school, and the shitty video quality makes it all look like a home movie, one where the students react to bad grades by throwing their milk and ruining a just purchased outfit.
She easily gets run over by the mother and the child by trying to play nice, but surely she can make some friends in her apartment by bringing by some cake and talking about Sex and the City with a woman…who does not watch it? You get the picture, as the grim saga of Melanie plays out and she loses the support of her coworkers, friends, and can get nothing started with her students or sympathy from her newly departed family. She sort of gets something going with an awkward co-worker, but he does not light her fire.
Melanie’s situation is frequently acknowledged to be an evenly shared problem on the social side of things by Ade, who has her basically stalk someone she wants to be close with to a tennis club after getting told she was busy that evening, and unintentionally finding out the lie thanks to that person’s real friend. And then she winds up screwing another situation as a result of that. If you’ve seen HBO’s The Comeback, you know what you’re getting, but Melanie does not have small luxuries like wealth, a husband, or a career that pays well.
And then there’s that ending. It’s either brilliant or a disaster, which feels oddly fitting for something that both heavily traffics in a logic that could not possibly happen in the early 2000s and still not now, and which is ambiguous enough to qualify as either catharsis from cutting out toxic elements in her life or the most painful defeat imaginable. There are ambiguous endings which, by virtue of their existence, seem to be the downer option, but this is genuinely neutral, complete with the perfect choice of credits song. Best student film since Eraserhead.
Moving on to her breakout work (good for her on becoming a big deal within two movies, although I would say Mike D’Angelo deserves some of the credit thanks to his Cannes column), Everyone Else, I was surprised to see that the story was a little like the relationship that Melanie finds herself caught on the sidelines in during Forest. Here, the couple is played by Birgit Minichmayr (as Gitti) and Lars Eidinger (as Chris), and they are on vacation in the Mediterranean. First scene of conflict: Gitti trying to find out why a little girl hates her, and then encouraging her to yell “I hate you!” and such things at her. It becomes slowly, SLOWLY (this is two hours to Forest’s 80 minutes) apparent that the couple is the trouble-starting kind, with small feuds over going out and what they don’t like about each other being brought up and dropped immediately in the early stages. Still, they seem so happy during a dance that we have to root for them, right?
No. They tend to contrast themselves with the others of the title, a grim desire of Gitti’s to settle down with a man who is so introverted that it seems as if he forever wants to drop out of the relationship. Certain scenes are just her rambling on about how unhappy she is with the way their lives are taking shape while Chris just stares at her. They are terrified of being mundane and average even as they do not want to give up security, and that is a phobia I can relate to, even though Ade is unafraid to twist the scenario up, throw it in their faces as they embrace the boring kitsch that takes form in so many couplings. We are all ultimately the same, unless we’re a Melanie.
With the first Ade work, it was clearly a chapter in this woman’s life, and which one it was is up to the reader of the story. Here, it is undoubtedly a prologue or an epilogue, based on an ending that may very well signal the end of a long day’s journey into the end, or the beginning for a new way of communication between the lovers, a more boring one that lacks the theatrical flourishes while keeping things easier to maintain for longer. Or it could simply signal that they are done entirely with talking, but what a tragedy it would be.
Most Valuable Asset: She loves the awkwardness and the weirdness of people.
Most Excited For: Toni Erdmann!
Coming Up Next: Mad provocateur Dusan Makavejev.