ALOYSFor many, full immersion into a film festival – that is, seeing between 30 and 40 films in the course of less than two weeks – does not seem a pleasurable or meaningful way to spend one’s life, or even one’s vacation. Considering that in 2014, the average number of movie tickets sold per person in the U.S. for the year was 3.7, the idea of seeing that many films in a day is mind boggling for many. Other than an intense love of film, another explanation exists for why someone would travel 11 hours over two flights to a foreign country, spend 12 nights alone in a hotel, only to watch three or four movies per day – which is the thumbnail itinerary for this critic’s February trip to Germany for Berlinale. Invariably, over the course of the festival, at least a hidden treasure emerges, one film, maybe two, that might otherwise go unnoticed or unreleased internationally.  At the 2015 Berlinale, Austrian films Homesick and The Last Summer of the Rich were two gems on display that have been seen only sporadically since their premieres.

At the 2016 Berlinale, Aloys, a Swiss feature that defies categorization, but might be best be described as a post-modern detective flick in which an Asperger Sam Spade goes off in search of himself, was the prize that made the trip worthwhile.

In his first feature, director/screenwriter Tobias Nölle strikes gold with a stunningly original take on middle-aged male isolation. Aloys Adorn (Georg Friedrich) is one half of a bush league private investigators firm. The other half, his father, just died. Aloys doggedly pursues his one active case and, otherwise, compulsively watches tapes: of his father playing piano and of the subjects of his investigations. His only other hobbies are heavy drinking and feeding the missing cat he was hired to retrieve, but adopted instead.

One particularly severe bender has Aloys wake up on an abandoned tram car with a massive hangover and without his camera and tapes. At this point, the film resembles The Conversation, Coppola’s masterwork with Gene Hackman as the audio surveillance maestro who becomes frantic when he believes someone is spying on him. Aloys is contacted regarding the missing items, but the route back to their return is anything but a straight line. He first must journey through an imaginary forest using a technique known as “telephone walking” to visualize his encounter with the thief.

Vera (Tilde von Overbook) has been following him while he follows others, and Aloys must decide whether she is a threat or a potential savior. In actuality, Vera is as damaged as Aloys, but together, they may either form one complete person or destroy each other completely. The two leads are tremendous. Each turns in a performance so thorough and faultless that it is impossible to imagine other actors in the roles.

Nölle’s screenplay reaches the level of genius as Aloys’s fantasy world becomes so much more detailed and rich than reality, never more so than when he watches tapes of parties that took place only in his imagination, featuring guests that he hasn’t yet met. The location for the film is also perfectly suited to the themes as most of the “real world” action takes place in what appears to be a soulless planned community filled with buildings of bad 60’s architecture, a prison for the imagination and any sense of creativity.

The ending may strike some viewers as too conventional, considering what has preceded it. Such a conclusion is arguable, but understandable. At the same time, it in no way diminishes the power and effectiveness of this incredibly strong first feature film.

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