Formentera: Berlin Film Review

unafilm Berlin GmbH
Slow-burning German relationship-drama never reaches much of a boil.

A young German couple get the Balearic blues in Formentera, the sun-baked but luke-warm sophomore feature from director/co-writer Ann-Kristin Reyels (2007's award-winning Hounds) Toplining the ever-engaging Swiss actress Sabine Timoteo opposite Denmark's Thure Lindhardt, this good-looking affair is slick enough to obtain festival exposure. But it's surely doomed to be the subject of unfavorable comparisons with Maren Ade's similarly-themed, Sardinia-set Everyone Else (2009), one of the most acclaimed German productions of recent years. Whereas in Ade's every stage in the disintegrating relationship traced via complex dialogue, the heavy-lifting here is largely performed by pregnant pauses. The cumulative result is a slow-paced affair with several shots and sequences protracted in an arbitrary manner, self-consciously signaling Reyels' artistic ambitions.

The story is simple enough, however: thirtyish, Berlin-based Nina (Timoteo) and Ben (Lindhardt) have left young daughter Luca with her parents while they have their first proper post-baby holiday ("We need some time to ourselves," as he remarks). They stay with old family friends of Ben in an attractively ramshackle house - a small commune of sorts, presided over by middle-aged Christine (Tatja Seibt) Frequently calling in are hippyish neighbors Pablo (Franc Bruneau) and Mara (Vicky Krieps) and their boy Yoko (Finn-Henry Reyels).

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The laid-back atmosphere of Formentera - a small Mediterranean island just off Ibiza - appeals to Ben. He is, unbeknownst to Nina, even exploring the idea of setting up a solar-energy business on the sun-kissed isle: "I really believe that life here is different," he enthuses; "I love how children grow up here." City-girl Nina isn't convinced, however, and never quite feels at home among Christine and her ageing cronies. Plainly missing her kid, she's also disconcerted by Ben's friendliness with free-sprited Mara. Events come to a head around the one-hour point: after a late-night beach-party the drunken trio take to the water - Nina ending up on Ibiza after an arduous swim (unsurprising given the nearly four-mile distance), and Mara nowhere to be found.

Mara's disappearance - presumably a nod to 1960 Italian classic L'Avventura - provides what passes for third-act drama. But it's always secondary to whether or not Ben will be able to persuade Nina of Formentera's merits. There's never much doubt about the outcome - and the 'dilemma' isn't really enough of a hook upon which to hang a whole movie. Given the economic woes affecting so many in Europe and beyond, meanwhile, Nina and Ben should perhaps count themselves lucky to have the choice - as well as their youth, health and kid.

Why this female infant should have a boy's name, meanwhile, is never explained. Then again, this is a picture in which a Frenchman called Pablo has a male child with a girl's name. Echoes and evidence of enduring, countercultural quirkiness? Perhaps - but also all of a piece with a movie in which we can't get quite a satisfying handle on how all the characters are inter-connected, and which is much too fashionably enigmatic to properly spell things out.

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Forum), Feb. 9, 2012.

Production companies: unafilm, in co-production with ZDF, arte, The Post Republic
Director: Ann-Kristin Reyels
Screenwriters: Ann-Kristin Reyels, Antonia Rothe, Katrin Milhan
Producer: Titus Kreyenberg
Director of photography: Henner Besuch
Production designer: Peter Weiss
Costumes: Manfred Schneider
Editor: Halina Daugird
Music: Henry Reyels, Marco Baumgartner
Sales Agent: unafilm, Berlin
No rating, 96 minutes.