Forest for the Trees, The

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 02/11/05 15:46:53

"With friends like this, you'd swear off friends for life."
3 stars (Just Average)

SCREENED AT THE 2004 VANCOUVER INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: German film is undergoing a bit of a renaissance of late, and not in the genres you'd expect. Gone are the crusty, arty Fassbinder dramas, and income the quirky comedies and techno-driven action films, like In July and Schultze Gets the Blues and Run Lola Run. The Forest for the Trees comes really close to adding to that list of must-see movies, but it's missing an important ingredient that most great films need - a story arc.

Melanie (Eva Lobau) has decided to leave the country life and move to the city, where she can join the cool people, do cultural things, and generally feel like life isn't passing her by. But Melanie's been out of the 'cool' scene a little too long, and when she sets up her new life, she finds that just wanting new friends and a new life doesn't always mean it's going to happen. She tries hard to fit in and be liked by her new students at the high school she teaches at, but the city is unforgiving, and kids doubly so. In desperation, Melanie practically forces the woman nextdoor to be friends with her by injecting herself into the stranger's life, to results you can see coming a mile away.

While Forest for the Trees is exceptionally well set up - Melanie really is a twat, but a well-meaning twat who you just wish would see the error of her ways, that's all that really happens. The longer the film goes, the more of a twat Melanie becomes, making error after error, going from embarrassment to nightmarish disaster, and rather than put us through any kind of real story arc, things just continue on a rapid decline, with the audience almost audibly thinking "oh no, don't do that... no, seriously, that's just... oh, she did it."

Melanie is an idiot. A well-meaning idiot, but an idiot nonetheless, and as she begins to sink in her own paranoia, jealousy and fear, you care less and less. "Go on, make a damn fool of yourself, you silly old bint. What do you want, a supermodel job?" It all just starts to grate after a while.

There's little disputing that the film is well made - even though it was shot on digital video, the look of the film is never one that gives you pause for thought, and the scenes themselves are constructed in such a way that you really can't fault debutante writer/director Maren Ade for not knowing how to characterize. Really, the only beef I have with the film is ultimately the one that destroys it - that you reach a point of impatience with the lead character that makes you want to leave her world, all of which makes the ending a case of "I really couldn't care less."

The Forest for the Trees is good filmmaking, but not so good film constructing. It's the kind of malaise you expect from a short filmmaker making her first stab at the feature realm - she just doesn't know what to do with the extra hour of running time.

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