Axiom

****

Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Axiom
"The way doubt starts to enter into everything we hear from any of the characters is subtly orchestrated." | Photo: Martin Valentin Menke/Bon Voyage Films

Memories are filtered by opinion and worldview. How often is it allowed to wander into a new life? We all are accessing a sea of stories, as Salman Rushdie calls it, or are “dipping into the big cauldron of story,” as Maria Tatar said about the Brothers Grimm.

Julius, played by the marvelously versatile and uncanny Moritz von Treuenfels, works as a security guard in a museum. He gives tips to new hire Erik (Thomas Schubert) about the “horror” of having to stand by the video art installations, about tyranny and negotiation, and invites the newcomer from Lower Austria to join him and his friends, Jonas (Max Themak), Lizi (Ines Marie Westernströer), and Savo (Zejhun Demirov) on a sailing trip on his aristocratic family’s boat.

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From the very start writer/director Jöns Jönsson has us pay attention to what is overheard. Be it a tour guide explaining a Mondrian painting to a class, the small leap from Cezanne to Picasso, or later on a bus a conversation picked up by Julius about an exotic fish thief - pieces of information stick and return as motifs in very non-metaphorical ways in this film about identity construction and the scavenging modes of the mind.

When is an experience an experience and when does the appropriation of experience become dangerous? Who owns a story? An axiom is accepted and not questioned. For a legend to be a legend it has to be told as truth. When the miller in Rumpelstiltskin boasts to the King that his daughter can spin straw into gold, he does so despite the fact that he knows he will be found out eventually.

On their way to the sailboat, Julius tells his colleagues Jonas, Lizi, Savo, and Eric about his posh cousin from Munich, a professional fish thief, and a casually naked man he encountered on the street one day. They talk about science and morals and religion as we see them crossing fields and woods (cinematography by Johannes Louis) and follow a hazelnut floating in a brook, its path interrupted and changed here and there by rocks and currents. In the marina, the aborted purchase of life vests is as far as the sailing trip goes and things spin into a different direction.

The Talented Mr. Ripley or the brand new Netflix series Inventing Anna rely on our fascination with impostors. Tall tales can be harmless or traumatising, depending on the perspective, and reinvention is a part of life. Axiom, the title appearing on screen after 48 minutes, touches on much that is better experienced forward while watching. The film had its world premiere screening last night in the Encounters section of the 72nd Berlin Film Festival.

Julius tells his mother about his girlfriend Marie (Ricarda Seifried), an opera singer - “she’s great, she laughs a lot” - and we will soon be able to confirm. Julius is a great storyteller and Jönsson makes sure that we notice equally how his protagonist shoves a candy wrapper into the hole in the fabric of the armrest of a chair as how he spins the fabric of tales of world travels, architecture, epilepsy.

The way doubt starts to enter into everything we hear from any of the characters is subtly orchestrated. Only twice does the film lose its fine touch. One is the story of a childhood marked by skin disease and bullying that veers into the completely unnecessary description of animal abuse, the other is the violent and vulgar song over the end credits. Both instances make it easy for audiences to stay at a distance, while so much of the movie is spent to have us see how universal, if unspoken a condition we are watching.

Reviewed on: 16 Feb 2022
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A well-liked young museum attendant invites his colleagues on a sailing trip on his aristocratic family’s boat, but all is not quite as it seems.

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BIFF 2022

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