Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

"Finsterwalder gets remarkable performances out of her first-rate ensemble."

"In its relation to desire, reality appears only as marginal," says Jacques Lacan, and in Frauke Finsterwalder's profoundly universal Finsterworld, fairy-tale desires stabilise the presence. She grabs us by the hand and abandons us in a forest glimmering in fairy dust where an injured raven is rescued by a hermit (Johannes Krisch). If you know the tales collected by the Brothers Grimm, you will encounter familiar travel companions, if you only vaguely remember them, even better.

In loosely connected strands we meet the different generations of the Sandberg family. Georg (Bernhard Schütz) and his wife Inga (Corinna Harfouch) are living their passion and frustration in a rented Cadillac, cut off from the German ugliness outside on their way to Paris. Their son Maximilian (Jakub Gierszal) and his classmates Natalie, Dominik and Jonas (Carla Juri, Leonard Scheicher and Max Pellny) at the boarding school are off on a field trip led by a fall guy, Lehrer Nickel (Christoph Bach), to a concentration camp. Documentary filmmaker Franziska (Sandra Hüller) is confronted with the fact that her policeman husband Tom (Ronald Zehrfeld) is a furry.

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A protagonist of the film is the German language itself. Precise, dangerous, disturbing and spellbinding, co-written with Christian Kracht, Finsterworld celebrates words of lore as well as colloquial rhythms and structures of non-communication. Frauke Finsterwalder told me the screenplay was written "in Korea, Fiji, Argentina - most of it in Argentina actually - where we had no connection to our culture or language."

This is the Germany of the unconscious where Teutonic earth spirits coexist with pedicurist Claude (Michael Maertens), who, in a raspberry colored turtleneck (the excellent costume design is by Charlotte Sawatzki), works foot-magic at a nursing home. Margit Carstensen, the star of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's films, plays Maria Sandberg, the object of his special affections and confections.

Finsterwalder gets remarkable performances out of her first-rate ensemble. Corinna Harfouch is sensational, crouching like a beige tiger who makes the sealed-off Cadillac interior entirely her own. The pencil cut skirt of her elegant dress is simultaneously holding her tight and enabling her seductive pounce. This is a film about donning skins more than shedding them. Scraping, rather than unveiling. Ashes, foot dust and fur fluff invade body and mind. Truth comes with a price and the feeling of disgust is worth a second look.

"When you are abroad, you are ashamed of the country" and "everything here is extra-ugly," is dialogue expressing sentiments unheard of in recent German cinema. This is especially daring and rewarding in a comedy with comprehensively developed characters who are so interesting, alive, and at times repulsive, that you would like to have a chat with them.

Language shines in the film with the rich cinematography of Markus Förderer and the exact, timely editing of Andreas Menn to create a look as scary as a lion's den. Tales are like the living dead of Finsterworld. A raven could actually be a naughty little girl, cursed by a mother, unaware of her powers. Eating human flesh can be a sign of love, as in The Juniper Tree. Meeting a bear behind the door might be a blessing in disguise as it turned out to be for Snow White and Rose Red.

When an oven produces a most unexpected high-school phoenix - when Michael Haneke and Ulrich Seidl are compared to fine wines and Sofia Coppola is happened upon in a Paris bathroom - you know you have entered Finsterworld.

Reviewed on: 21 Jun 2014
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Finsterworld packshot
Generations of the Sandberg family are revealed through loosely connected strands.

Director: Frauke Finsterwalder

Writer: Frauke Finsterwalder, Christian Kracht

Starring: Christoph Bach, Margit Carstensen, Jakub Gierszal, Corinna Harfouch, Sandra Hüller, Carla Juri, Johannes Krisch, Sarah Mathilda Libbertz, Michael Maertens, Dieter Meier, Max Pellny, Leonard Scheicher, Bernhard Schütz, Ronald Zehrfeld

Year: 2013

Runtime: 91 minutes

Country: Germany

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