' Cinema Romantico: Falling

Monday, May 06, 2013

Falling

We are maybe thirty minutes into writer/director Barbara Albert’s German/Austrian film from 2006, “Falling”, when something crucial occurs – that is, the quintet of thirtysomething women functioning as our protagonists explain to each other what it is they “do”. This is crucial because these five women are best friends who have re-gathered, “Big Chill”-style, for the funeral of an old schoolteacher. And while, for instance, they know Carmen is an actress – not a well-known actress, per se, but an actress – so much of the background information of their current lives is a mystery and, yet, they wait this long to fill in those blanks.


That first half-hour, unfolding at the funeral and then spilling out into a parking lot and leading to a countryside wedding that they crash and where they half-heartedly explain what they “do” is, to me, some of the boldest filmmaking around. I’ll explain.

These five – Alex (Ursula Strauss), Brigitte (Birgit Minichmayhr), Carmen (Kathrin Resetarits), Nicole (Gabriella Hegedus) and Nina (Nina Proll) – may go back a long ways but they have not seen each other in a long time and the film does not so much outright reveal this information as hint at it in the way the women interact. Is there anything more painful than being in the presence of a person or persons with whom you were once so very close but have since lost touch and realizing how wide the gap between you has become? You make small talk – with someone who once was your best friend! – in attempt to break the ice but small talk never breaks the ice and so secretly you hope and pray that either the universe calls in an icebreaking boat or some emergency arises that whisks you away. To quote Uncle Tupelo in their song called, not coincidentally, “True to Life”, what the hell are we all doing here?

Albert is asking for patience and if you provide it you will be rewarded. This, it likely goes without saying, is not a film of plot. It is a film of events, of random incidents into which our characters wade. You can almost imagine this being the way they once were – striking off into the night with no plan and embracing the oddities of life. It is a film of atmosphere – dread and uncertainty clouding every moment, joy and release occasionally cutting through.

There are, as there must be, secrets awaiting revelation, but it is different and ingenious the way these secrets do not necessarily flip the script and re-prioritize. When Nicole’s, whose rebellious daughter is along for the journey, is unearthed it is immensely telling how the reaction of the others is not even TO react, as if they’d suspected all along and this is merely confirmation. When Nina, who is pregnant, explains why she is having her baby and how she feels it is an understated thunderbolt. Quite frankly, it made me curse my bewilderment out loud – not at her reaction but at the stunning bravery and honesty in those lines. If only all dialogue had such guts.

Granted, the film has lapses, like the groom of the wedding apparently having a past connection with Nina that seems underdeveloped and unnecessary. It also is less than successful in creating a political subtext, presenting the dour Brigitte as the last one who holds any real sense of political activism from their days of youth. It was something I could sort of relate to – I had a political streak when I was young and have since lost almost all sense of it – but its handling here, attempting to show how such ideals can be stripped away over time, is a bit too clumsy to effectively make its point.

No, “Fallen” works best as a portrait of five women whose personalities seem mysterious perhaps because they are, in fact, a mystery to themselves. Still, here they are, and every once in awhile their humanity shines through. At one point the gals are at a fast food joint and Nicole decides to treat herself to a carmel sundae. Knowing who Nicole is and her situation, well, suffice it to say, never has the ordering of a carmel sundae moved me so much.

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