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Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Forest for the Trees

Here's one of my summer film recommendations:

Ever experienced what it’s like to change careers, move to another city, try to establish new friends? Sure. Everyone has. 1st time director Maren Ade crafted an amazing, true to life indie-film titled The Forest for the Trees. This German film is one of several foreign and independents that have been released by the smart folks at Film Movement.

Unfortunately I couldn’t track down a trailer, but I’ve included several reviews for the film. Critics are all over the map on this one, but if you like movies that focus on one central character this might be worth watching. A must for teachers.

Synopsis from Film Movement:

Bursting with idealism, Melanie Pröschle, a young teacher from the countryside, starts her first job at a high school in the city. Desperate to fulfil her hopes, Melanie intends to do everything the right way. Politely she introduces herself to her neighbours with homemade schnapps. At her first day of school she gives a very ambitious speech for her colleagues. She wants to be a "fresh breeze" to the school, but it is not easy to start a new life, as Melanie copes with loneliness, established teachers and ninth grade students.

My thoughts on the film:

The Forest for the Trees is a difficult fim to watch yes, but compelling enough to view all the way through. Eva Loebau is outstanding in portraying Melanie- the un-assertive, socially challenged country bumpkin whose life takes a serious plunge when taking up a career change and moving to the city. While she ends a long-term relationship and moves away from immediate family security, a new career brings possibilities that she feels ought to be explored. Unfortunately, things quickly devolve into a series of anxious, stressful encounters with unruly children and zombie-like city slickers. Loneliness starts. Existential dread creep in.

With the exception of one friendly co-worker who she trys to avoid for unknown reasons, most of the characters are portrayed as cold, judgmental, and aloof. Is this her perception or is this truly a reflection of the fast-paced city culture, or even German people? Perhaps all three.

I lived in Germany for three months as part of an internship (pre-911). I directly experienced all of the emotions and longing that Melanie has. Although I love the country and certainly met many wonderful people, there was a sense of indifference from some of the locals. Worse yet, understanding the native language was difficult. This alienated me from the culture to some extent. Still, watching this film brought back many pleasant memories of Germany even though there were moments that caused lots of squirming. Which reminds me- I need to scan in my old Black Forest photos.

Unfortunately, this film fails to reveal Melanie's inner spiritual world except for perhaps the ending. Is director Maren Ade providing some symbolism here? Is Melanie really in the "driver seat" or is it...God. Are Melanie's actions/re-actions becoming a pathway to another place? Some would say an auto-pilot cutaway scene. Is it really?

This film begs for empathy, but a close viewing can help to re-affirm our attitudes and treament of others. It provides the context that allows thoughtful reflection on what it means to befriend someone different from you, even if they don't seem to care. Of course there are boundaries between individuals that must be repected.

Now, watch and enjoy this video from Nouvelle Vague covering an old Cure song- A Forest

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