June 5, 2016 § Leave a comment
Melanie Pröschle instantly rockets to the top of my personal pantheon of cinema’s tragic lonely folk (voluntary or involuntary), right up there with Travis Bickle and several Mike Leigh characters. Brought to life – a very sad and sobering life – by a powerhouse Eva Löbau, Melanie is a somewhat innocent, recently graduated teacher who moves from a small German town to the larger city of Karlsruhe where her new career is off to a positively craggy start. Doe-eyed and with a barely concealed desire for affection bordering on neediness, Melanie is the kind of protagonist whose vulnerability can easily inspire viewer sympathy while making her utterly irritating to her fellow characters. From the throng of students from whom she fails to wrangle respect to her quietly mocking colleagues to the neighbour whom she stalks and then befriends, Melanie’s is a tragedy told via the language of lo-fi comedy. By this I mean that The Forest for the Trees looks and feels like a product of the Dogme 95 movement that was developed (and then promptly abandoned) by the likes of Lars von Trier. Accordingly, the image is low-key and reminiscent of late 90s digital video, handheld and unruly, utilising source lighting and physically intimate with Melanie and her surroundings. All music and sound exists within Melanie’s world. It’s all too real in a way that prevents the comic nature of Melanie’s misfortunes from losing their inherent sting. However socially inept/handicapped Melanie might be, she is in a globally relatable position: In a new city without any contacts and with a job that flogs the soul, desperate to be loved and appreciated, only, her desperation consumes and compromises her, clouding her judgement and vision in a way that recalls the film’s title. The only difference between Melanie and someone like Travis is that she does not descend into abject psychosis; that she retains a modicum of insight which only deepens the pain and the tragedy and helplessness of her situation. Now, this was German filmmaker Maren Ade’s first feature; her thesis film, in fact. The Forest for the Trees garnered some attention and awards, for example at Sundance, but it wasn’t until Ade’s brilliant tragicomedy Everyone Else (2009) that the cinema world marveled en mass at her ability to depict the delicate balance that exists in any relationship, that which sees a kiss transition into a bite and vice versa. Well, The Forest for the Trees is clear evidence that Everyone Else was borne of some artistic pedigree and that Ade’s future projects should be of deep interest to anyone with some part of their finger on the pulse of contemporary cinema.
* It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the fact that the 69th Festival de Cannes concluded a fortnight ago and that Maren Ade’s entry Toni Erdmann was a sweeping critical darling whose failure to nab a major award was widely bemoaned. But, prize or not, the apparent brilliance of Ade’s third feature is gratifying confirmation of the fact that she is now a major voice on the international circuit, and perhaps a major force in the shift towards a more egalitarian film landscape, at least from a gender standpoint.