Based on Michel Houellebecq's controversial cult novel, Atomised follows half-brothers Bruno and Michael, two very different men struggling to deal with their various sexual hang-ups and inability to deal with relationships.

Born to hippie mother Jane (Nina Hoss), who is more interested in free love and travelling around than raising kids, the boys are dumped on their respective paternal grandmothers at the age of four. They do not meet until they are in their early teens and it is clear they have little in common - in fact, they are polar opposites.

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Michael (Christian Ulmen) shies away from the sexual freedom preached by his mother, retreating into his books - and away from childhood pal and potential sweetheart Annabelle (Franka Potente). He becomes a successful scientist but is still a virgin unable to form a romantic attachment or forget the childhood love he was too scared to confess his feelings for. His work focuses on human cloning and eradicating the need for sex - both as a method of reproduction and, God forbid, pleasure.

Bruno (Moritz Bleibtreu), on the other hand, is a misogynistic, deluded, self-obsessed, sex addicted pratt. This loathsome, seedy little perv complains about not fancying his wife due to her post-birth stretchmarks and even puts pills in his baby's bottle to stop it crying. The teacher's self-loathing also spills out in racist essays the third reich would be proud of.

We meet both brothers at a crossroads in their lives. Bruno leaves his wife and has a breakdown after being rejected by a teen pupil. He heads for a nudist camp, relentlessly pursuing women. That is until he meets Christiane (Martina Gedeck) - who is as sexually adventurous and as lonely as he is - and falls in love.

Michael quits his job to pursue his research into cloning but his thoughts turn to Annabelle and he tracks her down. But just as both seem to have found love, tragedy strikes.

There is no Hollywood happy ending but nor is there total bleakness - and that is more than you expect given our unlikeable protagonists. It is due to Ulmen and Bleibtreu's understated, emotive performances that the viewer feels anything other than revulsion for their characters, particularly Bruno.

At times he is disturbingly seedy, especially his Oedipal feelings for his mother. He even masturbates over her. The ick factor doesn't get much higher. But Bleibtreu is expressive and impassioned, injecting humanity into Bruno, making him sympathetic despite being vile and often pathetically funny.

We come to understand their faults come from their longing to be acknowledged, accepted and loved- feelings they have never known so do not know how to achieve.

The women also give passionate performances, with Gedeck outstanding as Christiane. She makes her highly desired but also highly lonely, extremely in control yet falling apart, deliriously happy then desperately heartbroken. Her only flaw is looking too much like Davina McCall - my distaste for the shouting Big Brother menace really put me off liking her.

Director Roehler keeps his film moving at a good pace, combining a linear narrative of current events in the characters' lives with revealing flashbacks of their youth to illustrate how they became the men they are. He does an excellent job at devoting equal time to both brothers' stories and the whole film is beautifully shot. His sex scenes are numerous and as graphic as the novel commands - yet never gratuitous. He doesn't just throw in raunchy romps without them developing the story.

Overall, those seeking a heart-warming love story won't find it in Atomised. It isn't just about lust either. It's about relationships - those with parents, siblings, lovers. How we form them, struggle with them and ultimately desire them.

Reviewed on: 05 Nov 2006
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Two lonely brothers struggle to come to terms with life.
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Jennie Kermode ****

Director: Oskar Roehler

Writer: Oskar Roehler, based on the novel by Michel Houellebecq

Starring: Moritz Bleibtrau, Christian Ulmen, Martina Gedeck, Franke Potente, Nina Hoss

Year: 2006

Runtime: 113 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Germany


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