09 August 2007

Film Review: Sehnsucht

This 2006 film, by Valeska Griesbach, evokes a provincial backwater where the pace of life is stultifying. The main protagonist goes through the motions creating literal noise and sparks as he does his metalwork, but everything else within and without is still and silent. This man has no interior vitality; he says almost nothing. A jaunt with the local volunteer firefighters shows us the limited sphere he will inhabit, and the clichés he will mouthe, for the rest of his life.
At this point, he wakes up in bed with Rose, who rather than being an exciting alternative to his sweet, simple wife, replicates her. The man does not reflect on his relationships, nor articulate any emotion. Indeed, immediately before the encounter with Rose, we see him drunkenly gyrating to millionnaire Robbie Williams's track with the repeated line 'I just want to feel...'. This is one of the most striking scenes in the film, funny and subversive. His wife, likewise, does not seem to have her own words, but tries out phrases inherited from third-rate romantic fiction. Despite his disconnection and alienation, the man is compelled to go to Rose and sustain the infidelity which confuses him. Just before he puts a shotgun to his heart, he holds a rabbit in his arms, just as he has held both the women. At the moment where we find this ridiculous, his body recoils from the gunshot.
In the masterful final scene of the film, pre-pubescent children retell the story as gossip; some say the man survived and went back to the first woman, some that he survived and went back to the second one. It doesn't matter which. The longing of the film's title is not about a man being in love with two women, although it refers to that idea. Rather, this is one of several cherished myths - of a rural utopia, of a passionate affair, of a life-changing decision - which are revisted and subverted through figures who are ordinarily numb, and far removed from the self-dramatizing, overly articulate heroes and heroines of glossy pulp film-making.