Finsterworld (2013) [Review]

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A number of individuals in Germany whose lives are connected in some ways, and all of them have dark sides which may shock us to the core.

Finsterworld is a strange film that can hold its own, but uses a plot device that many have seen before. I wonder where you draw the line of comparisons of movies when using these techniques? It would be understandable if they were using the same subject matter, or even set in the same country, or creating the same vibe, but just because it uses multiple story-lines that happen to be interchanging with each other similar to that of Crash, Short Cuts, Amores Perros to name a few, it seems unfair to hold it to those high standards. In a way, it looks to undermine the validity of the movie and detract from the content, which in the case of Finsterworld, is bizarre enough and worthy of discussion on its own merit.

This is Frauke Finsterwalder’s first adventure into film after making two documentaries, and you wouldn’t have guessed it – It is a polished movie, that has the look and feel of an experienced filmmaker. You may have noticed the similarity between the surname of the director, and the title of the film. This could be seen as a play of words with her surname, a slight self-indulgence, but on the flip side ‘Finster’ translates as “dark”. I would argue that these are not mutually exclusive, perhaps there is a lot of Finsterwalder in this film, but ultimately it spirals wildly out of control as if watching Requiem for a Dream 6 times over, all at once. Dark sums it up, it takes on a kind of nightmare vibe mashed into a strange world, detaching itself from reality. Dark-World or Finster-World, it’s a world that by the end I wanted nothing to do with.

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Each story feels slightly off, something isn’t quite right and it is unnerving to watch, but to delve any deeper is difficult as it is a hotbed of spoilers. However, there are roughly 8 separate stories taking place; A man who lives in the woods, a lonely woman in an old folks home, a man who massages feet, a policeman, an anti-German couple, a school trip, and a documentary maker. All are connected to each other, either by random chance or something a bit more substantial.  Fundamentally, their mere existence and the world around them connects them. What makes this interesting is that at face value, there doesn’t appear to be a clear divide of good or bad people in this film, just people being people acting as a result of their environment. Some acts are unforgivable, some people can be resented for just being who they are, but the lines are blurred. All time maintaining a thread of dry humour throughout, underpinning the reoccurring darkness, making this more of a tragicomedy than straight up bleakness.

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A strange undercurrent of Anti-German sentiment bubbles to surface more than a few times, and whether this is a manifestation of Finsterwalders true feelings of Germany remains to be answered. It does shine a light on how some Germans may feel with regards to patriotic identity, having the balancing act of being a proud nation with a history memorable for all the wrong reasons is a difficult burden to have. Nevertheless, it is explored with a sharp tongue and intelligence that gives a certain weight to the conversations, as opposed to a vague anti-nationalist rhetoric that could have grown very tiresome.

The bleakness is balanced by the seemingly always bright and sunny cinematography, rarely has such a dark film looked so good. Extremely well acted, funny, depressing, thought-provoking – it is a unique look at German individuals coming to terms with the path they have taken in life, or looking at the path they might take. It was initially on the verge of mediocrity, meandering from story to story with little to keep me interested. Relieved from the mundane blandness, we are taken to a strange final third with shocks that leave you reeling for hours afterwards. Perhaps one too many stories, some slightly implausible, but that is life – is it not? Random events, hidden emotions, questionable actions. Everything doesn’t have to make sense, at least not in this dreamlike ‘Finsterworld’.

Finsterworld is available on DVD from Amazon/Play

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