‘The Misplaced World’: Berlin Review

Courtesy of Berlin International Film Festival
A globe-trotting tale that gets lost early on

Katja Reimann explores Barbara Sukowa’s uncanny resemblance to her mother in Margarethe von Trotta’s dramedy

The Misplaced World (Die Abhandene Welt), written and directed by the normally reliable Margarethe von Trotta, is more misguided than misplaced. The tale of family secrets being unveiled late in life is a yawn that sways uncertainly and perhaps unintentionally between drama and comedy.  One can only surmise that the director wanted something light to follow up the intellectual angst of last year’s talked-about biopic Hannah Arendt. Here the talents of the intense Barbara Sukowa, who has played Arendt and Rosa Luxemburg for Von Trotta, and the glowing Katja Riemann, star of the director’s Holocaust drama Rosenstrasse, are wasted as two strangers who dance around the idea that they may be related to each other. With the entire cast over 50, it’s hard to be vitally interested in the final act’s shocking revelations, which change nothing. Wild Bunch can try marketing this to mature audiences, but it looks like a hard sell.

The sibling theme is a bit of an obsession for Von Trotta, who has explored it in Marianne and Juliane (in which Sukowa played the terrorist sister) and Sisters, or the Balance of Happiness. But structurally, the film feels almost like a comic parody of Rosenstrasse. Once more the central relationship is between two women, an obscure Berlin lounge singer named Sophie (Reimann) and the famous opera singer Caterina Fabiani (Sukowa), first seen singing at the New York Met. Again, there is a key mother-daughter relationship between Caterina and the elderly Rosa (Karin Dor), whose lost memory once held the secret to a hidden past. And as the characters nonchalantly hop back and forth between Germany and New York, Sophie digs into her parents’ cloudy past.

The story begins when Sophie’s gray-haired father (Matthias Habich) becomes agitated after seeing the photo of an opera singer who is a dead ringer for his dead wife. He persuades Sophie to fly to New York and make contact. Caterina’s natural resistance to the investigation would be a fatal obstacle, were it not for the fact that her dashing agent (Anton Algrang) falls in love with Sophie on sight.

As bright and attractive as Sophie is, she is not of an age to make men lose their heads when she stumbles over their feet in a dark theater. Yet we are to believe she is a curly-haired blonde femme fatale who stops traffic in New York. This is really unfair to Reimann, who has a beautiful face and singing voice, but is hardly bait for the likes of Caterina’s wolfish agent.

If Reimann plays girlish and come-hither, Sukowa is all temperamental Teutonic diva – self-centered, demanding and neurotic during rehearsals. Again the character is so stock that one hopes she’s meant to be funny. It’s not clear whether Sukowa, who also reads classical music parts, is singing the arias or is dubbed, but the illusion is perfect.  

Rudiger Vogler appears in a cameo as a Russian ballet teacher.

A Concorde presentation of a Clasart Film & Fernsehproduktion

Cast: Katja Riemann, Barbara Sukowa, Matthias Habich, Gunnar Moller, Karib For, August Zirner, Rudiger Volgler, Tom Beck, Arne Jansen, Anton Algrang

Director, Screenwriter: Margarethe von Trotta
Producer: Markus Zimmer

Executive producers: Herbert G. Kloiber
Director of photography: Axel Block
Production designer: Volker Schaefer
Costume designer: Frauke Firl

Editor: Bettina Böhler
Music: Sven Rossenbach, Florian Van Volxem
Casting: Sabine Schroth
Sales: Wild Bunch
No rating, 101 minutes