The Stranger In Me



Cannes Film Festival, Critics' Week


Emily Atef's "The Stranger in Me" ("Das Fremde in Mir") is a clinically efficient case-study of post-natal depression that hints at becoming a psychological drama, then opts for a reassuringly happy ending. Technically impressive from beginning to end, with an excellent central performance by Susanne Wolff as the troubled mother, the movie may do business in Germany but is unlikely to travel well.

When Rebecca (Wolff) and her live-in boyfriend Julian (Johann von Bulow), both in their early 30s, decide to have a baby, everything goes according to plan up to the moment of the child's birth. Then Rebecca unexpectedly finds herself plunged into emotional turmoil without any of the maternal feelings she had expected to surge within her.

Counseling does not seem to help. She feels increasingly estranged from her child, and at one point abandons him in his pram in the street. Then she is found lying on her back in the woods, in a near-catatonic state. Professional caretakers are called in, notably Agnes (Dorte Lyssewski), herself a former sufferer from post-natal depression. Gradually, Rebecca is nursed back into a state of mind where she begins to harbor feelings of love for her child.

So far, so case-book. Little is provided to differentiate Rebecca in her relations with her man, her mother Lore (Maren Kroymann) or her work (in a flower shop) from the other hundreds of thousands of sufferers from post-natal depression.

When at last something like a plot is worked up -- failing to understand Rebecca's condition, Julian enrolls his sister (Judith Engel) and father to deny her access to her child -- the drama appears perfunctory and is too easily resolved.

Wolff is convincing in her portrayal of a mother in distress, but what her character lacks -- like the movie as a whole -- is that spark of fantasy that will engage audiences fully rather than simply elicit a degree of interest and mild sympathy.

Production companies: Niko Film, ZDF Das Kleine Fernsehspiel, Arte, DFFB
Cast: Susanne Wolff, Johann von Bulow, Marenn Kroymann, Dorte Lyssewski, Herbert Fritsch, Klaus Pohl, Judith Engel, Hans Diehl.
Director: Emily Atef.
Screenwriters: Emily Atef, Esther Bernstorff.
Photography: Henner Besuch.
Production design: Annette Lofy.
Music: Manfred Eicher.
Editor: Beatrice Babin.
Sales: Bavaria International Film
No rating, 99 minutes.