Everyday Objects (Halbschatten): Berlin Review

Everyday Objects Halbschatten - H 2013

Everyday Objects Halbschatten - H 2013

Chilly Eurodrama proves too subtle for its own good.

German writer-director Nicolas Wackerbarth paints an opaque picture of modern love on the French Riviera.

BERLIN -- Building a drama out of the most non-dramatic, private, in-between moments of a young woman’s life is the challenge that German writer-director Nicolas Wackerbarth set for himself with this crisp little character study. It was a bold artistic strategy, albeit one almost designed to fail. Unveiled at the Berlin International Film Festival last week, Everyday Objects is a cerebral snapshot of the moneyed, cultured, multilingual bourgeoisie at play. Very much a festival movie, it has clear Euro-auteur lineage but will struggle for screen space beyond the most niche art-house outlets.

Jodie Foster lookalike Anne Ratte-Polle stars as Merle, a thirtysomething German academic and aspiring author who arrives at her lover Romuald’s fortress-like villa perched high over the French Riviera. He has mysteriously disappeared on urgent publishing business, his phone calls sporadic, his return date hazy. Merle is obliged to wait indefinitely, bonding awkwardly with his children: 16-year-old Felix (Leonard Proxauf) and 13-year-old Emma (Emma Bading).

An awkward interloper at the villa, Merle establishes cordial but cool relations with Romuald’s neighbors and children. Only slowly does she warm to Emma and Felix, assuming stand-in stepmother duties before finding herself drawn into the latter’s party clique of druggy rich kids. Unspoken sexual tensions eventually sour the holiday mood, and she is forced to reassess why she came to France in the first place.

Full of artfully composed static shots, Everyday Objects glides along on chilly poise and low-level tension, but not much else. Most scenes portray Merle in languid solitude, reading and sunbathing by the pool, strolling alone down empty streets, even discreetly trimming her pubic hair. There are teasing echoes here of Francois Ozon’s Swimming Pool, but psycho-sexual mania sadly never ripples the story’s placid surface. Merle’s only real moment of dramatic conflict occurs during a heated payment dispute with a village cake-store owner. How very French.

As an elliptical commentary on modern relationships and sexual politics, Wackerbarth’s minor-key mood piece starts out subtle and intriguing. But long before the film reaches its underwhelming conclusion, the discreet charm of the bourgeoisie has already worn pretty thin.

Venue: Berlin Forum Screening, Feb. 10

Production: Unafilm, Les Films d’Antoine

Producers: Titus Kreyenberg, Antoine Simkine

Cast: Anne Ratte-Polle, Leonard Proxauf, Emma Bading, Maren Kroymann, Soroosh Lavasani

Director-screenwriter: Nicolas Wackerbarth

Cinematographer: Reinhold Vorschneider

Editor: Janina Herhoffer

Music: Olivier Mellano

Sales: Rendezvous Pictures International, Paris

No MPAA rating, 80 minutes