Hut In The Woods

Hut In The Woods


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

"End of the line!"

These are the first words we hear in Hans Weingartner's Hut In The Woods, but not before we have seen impressionistically contrasting images of our protagonist Martin Blunt (Peter Schneider), first alone and ecstatic in a gloriously sunny forest, then similarly alone but this time harnessed and sedated in the rear of a police van. "This bum's fucking up my pants!" complains the policeman as they deliver Martin, drugged and drooling, to a psychiatric institution – and we wonder if this really is the end of the line for Martin, and if the woodland idyll with which the film opened is part of the problem or the solution.

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Released back into society, the one-time mathematics prodigy proves unable to cope with the pressures of modern, urban life. His former workplace no longer wishes to employ someone who has spent the last six months in a 'special facility', and his old love Petra (Julia Jentsch) is living with someone else. Soon Martin has swapped his meds for cheap vodka and, evicted from the alienating claustrophobia of his council flat, is out on the streets, madly muttering numbers to himself and stumbling into traffic.

It is then, at his lowest point, that he meets Viktor (Timur Massold), a young Ukrainian boy who has also, ever since his mother OD'd, been living on the streets. Despite their lack of a common language, the two quickly bond and retreat into the countryside together, where they start building a hut in the woods and rebuilding a semblance of order in their lives.

On one of their forays into town, they chance upon some discarded love letters which lead Martin to Lena (Henrike von Kuick), a trainee dentist whose free spirit is getting lost in the daily grind. She is naturally charmed by Martin's stories of back-to-basics life, and for a joyous, if fleeting, moment, it looks as though Martin may have found a different ending for himself and his new 'family' – but then, returning to the woods, he finds his hut, along with his delusions of stability, being dismantled, and cold, hard reality closing in...

For his third feature (following The White Noise and The Edukators), Hans Weingartner has entered territory normally occupied by Lodge Kerrigan, whose films similarly trace marginalised, damaged protagonists while confronting us with our own feelings and prejudices about mental illness. Here combining the over-the-shoulder objectivity of Kerrigan's Keane (2004) with the more fragmented subjectivity of his masterpiece Clean, Shaven (1995), Weingartner simultaneously offers an insider's and outsider's perspective on Martin's experiences, forcing us to construct the deceptively straightforward narrative much as Martin builds the hut – from whatever materials can be found, put back together into some kind of working order.

As Martin walks to and fro from urban settings to the Edenic countryside, Weingartner's film also seems to meander, and to drift a little too close to the sentimental – until a twist comes that forces the viewer to re-evaluate everything that has gone before, and to question the apparent naturalism implied by DP Henner Besuch's handheld tracking shots. Yet for all its satisfying plausibility, the twist is played too soon, and there is something rather disingenuous about the supposed ambiguity then cast over the rest of the film's events - as though we are being invited to share in a perspective that we already, surely, know is false.

Yet perhaps that is the whole point: the paradox of Martin's predicament is that his illness and recovery are inextricable, so that his condition both improves and deteriorates at the same time, as he learns to coexist comfortably with his own deep-seated fancies. So, in this tragic yet occasionally uplifting study of a madness which is its own cure, the end of the line also marks the beginning of a new life - even if it is lived only in the mind.

Reviewed on: 22 Oct 2011
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A young man befriends an orphaned boy, and they try to escape the world by building a cabin in the woods.
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Director: Hans Weingartner

Writer: Hans Weingartner

Starring: Peter Schneider, Timur Massold, Henrike von Kuick, Julia Jentsch

Year: 2011

Runtime: 109 minutes

Country: Germany


London 2011
BIFF 2012

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