Friday, September 17, 2004

Der Wald vor Lauter Baumen (The Forest for the Trees)

From director/writer Maren Ade, The Forest for the Trees is an often painful look at Melanie, played magnificently by Eva Lobau, who at the start of the film has broken up with her longtime boyfriend, moved to a new city, and is starting her first teaching job midway through the school year. She comes in with boundless optimism, but before long, the pressures of controlling (or not) the students, trying to meet new friends, and building a new life in a new place creates undue stress and leads her to make questionable decisions. Nowhere is this more apparent in her increasingly ineffectual attempts to bond with her neighbour Tina, played by Daniela Holtz.

The film was shot using a handheld digital camera, which allows for closer, more intimate shots, but also lends a bit of a documentary-like feel to the film. This in turn lends a greater air of realism to what is observed. Eva Lobau is completely convincing in the role of Melanie, and even in her silent moments, you can feel her pain as she struggles to adjust to her new life. Many in the audience felt pained as Melanie made increasingly desperate attempts to connect with those around her, while at the same time sympathizing with her situation, one that everyone has probably gone through at one time or another.

Director Maren Ade, actress Eva Lobau, and one of the producers attended the screening and did a Q&A after the film. Notes from the Q&A:

- Director Maren Ade's parents are both teachers, and their many stories contributed to the movie.

- Ade had two ideas for a movie; one about a new teacher, and one about a complicated friendship where one steps over the line in wanting to be the friend of the other. She asked a friend which film she should do, and the friend suggested doing both.

- Lobau was asked how difficult it was to shoot the film. She said that it was sometimes painful, but the had fun on set shooting. A lot of the interaction with the students was improvised, and it sometimes generated painful aggression in her, but her character couldn't show those types of feelings.

- Ade said that use of a handheld camera allowed her to react to more things. She doesn't like movies where there is a mix of handheld and stationary camera work, that it looks silly putting and handheld camera on a dolly.

- A handheld camera also allowed her to stay close in on the characters all the time, which is needed since much of the story is in the subtext and not the dialogue.

- Commenting on the relative lack of music in the film, Ade said that most of the time the characters are talking too much for music to be inserted. There are a few quiet scenes, but she said there had to be the right pictures and longer parts for music to work.

- The script took about six months to write, and Ade did a lot of treatment versions before writing the dialogue. The dialogue was not difficult, but because there are a number of similar scenes, she need to see in the treatments that they worked.

- The movie has found a distributor, so it will be released commercially in Germany. Ade said it was difficult because the subject matter is not exactly uplifting, plus Lobau's character talks in a particular dialect, with an accent, that many in Germany find funny.

- According to the festival newspaper, this is Ade's first full-length feature film, and was shot while she was still attending the Munich Academy for Television and Film.

- Ade felt surprised that a festival as large as Toronto would select her film to be screened.

The following Q&A items contain spoilers:

- The ending is supposed to be a sort of miracle, where Melanie relaxes and gives up control. Ade said it was difficult to find a realistic ending, so she made something more surreal, that leaves the base of the movie.

- Ade's wish for Melanie is that she give up control, give up on something that is not working.

- Some people feel the ending implies that Melanie is committing suicide, and Ade says that is ok with her.


My experiences at the Toronto International Film Festival. Note this blog is not affiliated with the Toronto International Film Festival Group or the festival itself.
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