'All of a Sudden' ('Auf Einmal'): Berlin Review

All of a sudden Still - H 2016
Courtesy of Berlin Film Festival
Unexpected twists compensate for some weaknesses.

Istanbul-born, Germany-based director Asli Ozge's third film stars Sebastian Huelk, Julia Jentsch and Hanns Zischler.

The tranquil life of a German bank employee from a sleepy town is thrown for a loop when a girl he finds attractive but doesn’t actually know unexpectedly dies at his home in All of a Sudden (Auf Einmal), the first fully German-language feature of Istanbul-born, Berlin-based female filmmaker Asli Ozge (Lifelong, Men on the Bridge). Since the protagonist has a girlfriend who’s away on a business trip when the stranger kicks the bucket in their apartment, some of the fallout of this event is rather predictable, though Ozge also has a couple of pleasingly noir twists up her sleeve, even though they arrive too late to be properly motivated. This Berlinale Panorama title is a German-Dutch-French coproduction that has some theatrical potential in continental Europe, though Ozge isn’t quite mature enough a director to fully synthesize the visuals and contents of this ambitious third fiction feature.

Karsten (Sebastian Huelk, The White Ribbon) is a rather mild-mannered man in his late thirties who ends up home alone with a pretty girl, Anna (Natalia Belitski), after all the other attendees of his house party have left. He assumes she’s a friend of a friend, she looks lonely and possibly even suicidal, and they end up at least kissing. Through expert editing (courtesy of Muriel Breton and the director), what happens exactly after that isn’t immediately clear, though Karsten ends up running to a nearby clinic that turns out to be closed at night not much later before running back home and calling an ambulance. Not much later, he’s interrogated by the police, who wonder why he didn’t call the ambulance right away, which perhaps could have saved her life.

What follows is initially the stuff of countless TV dramas: Anna turns out to have been a married German-Russian who was an unknown interloper at the party; Karsten’s girlfriend, Laura (Julia Jentsch, Sophie Scholl), wants to know what exactly happened between the two and at work he’s demoted to a position that doesn’t require client contact when the papers publish his story. Confusion abounds, both for the police and also for Karsten, who’s unsure what to make of all this and how to deal with the fallout; the fact Anna left her pantyhose at the apartment where she died raises more questions than it answers and the film mostly refuses to let audiences understand exactly what happened that night. Meanwhile, Karsten’s father (Hanns Zischler), a wealthy and well-regarded city patron, goes into immediate damage-control mode and hires a good lawyer.

Ozge’s regular cinematographer, Emre Erkmen, is fond of unusual angles and unexpected overhead shots, which lend the widescreen film some visual panache. But in terms of the mise-en-scene, the compositions don’t always help move the story forward, something that’s especially noteworthy in an awkwardly framed dinner-party sequence at the house of two friends of the couple, Florian (Simon Eckert) and Judith (Luise Heyer), who both have their own ideas about what happened. Combined with the fact that there’s not a lot of ambient sound and that some of the dialogues are more formal than conversational, this gives the film a somewhat hushed, filmed-theater quality, despite its widescreen treatment.   

But the sting’s in the tail and what is in store in the third act at least partially compensates for these problems, even if the unexpected twists are more satisfying as narrative surprises than as organically developed and carefully set-up character work. Ozge practically gets away with it because her actors ace the few — too few — transitional scenes, such as during a face-off between the increasingly assertive Karsten and Anna’s widower husband (TV actor Sascha Alexander Gersak), who has had Karsten charged with gross negligence and whom Kartsen has decided to pay a visit at home. An ostensibly happy ending that’s bleakly tragic at the same time wraps up the entire package.   

Production companies: EEE Productions, Topkapi Films, Haut et Court, Shortcuts International, The Post Republic

Cast: Sebastian Huelk, Julia Jentsch, Hanns Zischler, Sascha Alexander Gersak, Luise Heyer, Lea Draeger, Natalia Belitski, Christoph Gawenda, Simon Eckert

Writer-Director: Asli Ozge

Producers: Fabian Massah, Asli Ozge

Director of photography: Emre Erkmen

Production designer: Tim Pannen

Costume designer: Birgit Kilian

Editors: Muriel Breton, Asli Ozge

Casting: Simone Baer

Sales: Memento


No rating, 112 minutes