rl_galerie_005Too often it seems as if the programmers for the Berlinale Film Festival use the H.L. Mencken definition of puritanism as their maxim for selecting films. They display a haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy after seeing one of the movies they choose to showcase at the annual event. Working your way through the Competition or Panorama category can be an eat-your-vegetables exercise. Where then can the intrepid filmgoer go for a nice slice of genre pie after days and nights of sampling overdone highbrow fare? The task is not an easy one. Berlinale has yet to follow the lead offered by the world’s other premier film festivals like Sundance, Tribeca, Toronto, and London and added a Midnight section for horror, science fiction, fantasy, off-beat comedy, and other films that don’t so much push the envelope as rip it a new one.

The sole reliable oasis for good times from good films in Berlin each February is the Perspektive Deutsches Kino category, which puts the spotlight on up-and-coming German filmmakers, many of whom it seems are quite fond of genre flicks. Case in point: director/screenwriter Jakob Erwa and his wicked little tale of urban insanity, Homesick, which enjoyed its world premiere at the 65th Berlinale in February. Unfortunately, Erwa’s movie was relegated to one of the smaller venues and given only two screenings, treatment common to the pictures shown in Perspektive Deutsches Kino. The showings routinely sell out and an overflow crowd sits in the aisles. At some point, one would hope that festival organizers would give such films a bigger stage and a better screen.

The fortunate few who managed to fill CinemaxX 1 were met by a young woman on stage in a bathrobe and slippers playing the cello and a small string pet collar on every seat, each representative of key points in the film. The plot of Homesick is familiar – a young woman driven by success begins to questions the motivations of those around her. Is she succumbing to the pressure or is she the only one aware of a real and growing danger? After all, even paranoids have enemies. Familiar yes, cliched no. Erwa displays a gift similar to what director Adam Wingard has shown in You’re Next and The Guest. Each has the ability to take a genre plot archetype and infuse it with a freshness that rivets the viewer.

Jessica Klug (Esther Maria Pietsch) is an aspiring cellist of considerable talent, who shortly after moving into a new apartment with her boyfriend Lorenz Amann (Matthias Lier), learns that she has been selected to represent Germany in a prestigious musical competition in Moscow. For Jessica, this means a retreat into herself, her apartment, and her instrument. She must rehearse, which she seeks to do with headphones on and eyes closed, but strange noises, voices, and knocks on the door continually intrude. Someone is spying, conspiring, threatening. Why did their adopted cat disappear? Who is that figure in the window staring into Jessica’s apartment?

It is obvious to Jessica, if to no one else, that the source is the upstairs neighbors, namely Frau Hilde Domweber (Tatja Seibt). One cannot overstate how important Seibt’s performance is to making this entire enterprise work. She is the Hausfrau from Hell, seemingly polite, yet always judging with her clipped manner of speaking and mannerisms meant to convey authority and to keep a certain societal distance. It is classic Du versus Sie for students of the German language. The credibility of the premise rests entirely on Pietsch and Seibt, and both actresses nail their roles.

Erwa subtly, steadily ups the pace and the pressure throughout the movie. In the early going, he keeps the camera still and focused on an empty room. We hear voices close and must imagine what happening from the snatches of conversation we hear and glimpses of individuals as they come into range. The device perfectly sets up what Jessica later must go through in the apartment as she seeks to make sense of what she is hearing and seeing.

Is she or isn’t she going crazy may be an old saw of a story, but Erwa has put in a wicked new blade that cuts to the core. The next chance to catch Homesick is at the Imagine Film Festival in Amsterdam in April. Check your seat for a string necklace before settling in for 100 minutes of fun.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s