AVAILABLE ON DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY AND DVD: 24TH OCTOBER, from EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT
RUNNING TIME: 91 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Aloys Adorn is a middle aged private detective who lives and works with his father. He experiences life from a safe distance, through a video camera he keeps recording 24 hours a day, and the massive collection of surveillance tapes he organises and obsessively watches at home. But when his father dies, Aloys is left on his own and his sheltered existence begins to fall apart. After a night of heavy drinking, he wakes up on a public bus to find that his camera and precious observation tapes have been stolen. Soon after, a mysterious woman calls to blackmail him. She offers to return the tapes if Aloys will try an obscure Japanese invention called ‘telephone walking’ with her, using his imagination as their only connection….
If I could describe Aloys in terms of other films I guess I’d call it The Conversation meets Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, but that description is only partially apt and really the film is quite unique. Of course recently we’ve had several films commenting on, and lamenting, our near enslavement to technology which, far from opening up the world to us, has in many cases closed it, us preferring virtual relationships of all sorts to going out and making real ones. It’s one of the most important themes of our time and more and more movies will be made about it as technology continues to develop at a scary rate. But Tobias Nölle’s film is one of the most compelling yet, a remarkable achievement considering that this is, following his segment in the anthology film Wonderland [aka Heimatland], his first feature. It’s noteworthy for several reasons, from the way he evokes the world as experienced by Aloys Adorn, to the almost heart breaking way it shows a man unable to come out of his shell and interact properly with other human beings, but for me its greatest feature is that, aside from one noteworthy scene [which is one of my favourite of the year], it’s really quite depressing for much of its length [despite a certain strange humour at times], yet is at times genuinly uplifiting and there was one moment towards the end where I just wanted to cheer.
A feeling of isolation and grief pervades even the first few shots, as we cut from a dripping tap to shots of an almost empty house, the lounge only seeming to contain a tiny video recorder in it. Then we cut to a red screen and pan down to reveal a dead old man on a slab. This is the recently deceased father of Aloys, who is first seen standing beside the body putting a feather in one of his father’s jacket pockets. Then he begins to film the dead body, something which seems a little macabre. In fact, the first thing I thought of was the classic Peeping Tom when we see how Aloys is constantly filming things, though unlike Mark Lewis he doesn’t kill people. He’s not an especially nice chap though, rudely brushing aside a crematorium worker’s attempt at conversation who says she went to school with him with: “ I don’t know you young lady” and walking off. He has a car, but only uses it to eat lunch in while it’s still covered up, preferring to travel on buses while he gets drunk [God, I felt like I was watching The Girl On The Train again though of course this film is far superior]. We never find out how Aloys got like this, except hints that his job may have made him this way, though I wondered about his father, with whom he ran the private eye business. He seems to have happy memories of his dad, which are sometimes shown, but one feels that there’s much the film isn’t telling us, and when it’s done like this it’s a good thing, because our minds can fill in the blanks the way we want.
Aloys doesn’t actually seem to be an especially good PI, getting himself seen by one couple he’s been hired to observe, though he has enough integrity concerning his job to stop his client from actually interacting with his target in a rather amusing moment [see, there is humour in this film, but it’s of a defiantly offbeat kind and usually underplayed]. When he wakes up after an alcoholic binge on a bus [don’t they chuck out passengers when the drivers finish for the night?], the tapes he has on him are gone and replaced by a tiny new tape which he takes home and plays. It shows that somebody has been filming him, raising the interesting concept of the man who constantly observes others and who is supposed to be invisible having the tables turned on him. This person, who I initially thought was a different character in the film to the one it actually turned out to be, tells him that she’ll send all the tapes to the people whom he was observing unless he does what she wants. Now at this point Aloys seems like it’s a paranoid thriller and there’s certainly a feeling of menace about it, though – and this is something that may irritate and disappoint though I liked the way the film changes around a third of the way through –but it then becomes something else, a very strange game of emotional and psychological cat and mouse between Aloys and the mysterious female caller, the latter always in control.
The film becomes almost heartbreakingly painful as Aloys and the girl, two incredibly lonely, damaged people, engage in a strange sort of relationship, conducted entirely over the mobile phone [and how many of us do pretty much the same thing], consisting largely of Aloys imagining that she’s in the same place as him and that things are happening which in fact aren’t. She wants him to ‘phone walk’ in a wood [the first time we see this wood is very striking because the lush greens are such a contrast to the muted colours we’ve previously been seeing to help evoke Aloys’ state of mind]. However, him being him, he prefers to fantasise at home, and here we get a simply wonderful scene which I loved so much I watched it twice, where Aloys and the girl are playing the keyboard and a party, consisting of most of the film’s other characters, starts to happen. It’s quirky, funny and manages to, amazingly, be both really happy and really sad at the same time. Why is it really sad? Because none of it is real, and in the real world Aloys is still the way he’s always been and you just want to grab hold of him and shake him. However, he does eventually begin to change a little, though just when you think things are getting a little predictable we’re presented with an ending that really will puzzle and leave you thinking as it has several possible interpretations. The best thing about it, though, is that – just like that wonderful party sequence – it’s superbly happy and sad at the same time, though balanced more to the happy side of things….at least for me. I guess it comes down to the viewer what they will feel. I was genuinely elated in a way I hadn’t felt for some time in the sequence leading up to the ending, and the ambiguous conclusion failed to change that.
Surreal touches and moments which you’re not sure are real or not abound, from two sheep in a lift to some rather spooky appearances by a young Oriental girl who, amongst other things, asks Aloys if he rings sex lines [it’s very possible that he does – the film just doesn’t show it]. The feeling of disorientation is enhanced by many devices, including odd choices of shots during some scenes [look at how the scene of Aloys getting off the bus after his tapes have been stolen is shot – it’s so unconventionally filmed but it works] and Aloys often being shown alone in big wide spaces. The cinematography by Simon Guy Fässler is simply stunning throughout, properly gloomy for much of the time but with moments of light and life which burst out occasionally. There’s one shot of Aloys on a bus leaning against the window with lights from outside being reflected against him on the inside which I will remember for some time, and yet nothing’s really overdone except for perhaps the performance of Georg Friedrich as Aloys which I felt was sometimes a little mannered for me, especially when compared to the more natural performance by Tilde von Overbeck, in what is amazingly her first screen credit. It’s not a major flaw, and there will be many who think that he’s very believable. After all, he’s playing an extremely messed up guy.
It’s fair to say that I was very impressed indeed by Aloys. I didn’t really know what to expect from it when I put the disc from Eureka Entertainment in my Blu-ray player, and I’ll admit thaat there were moments in the first half where I wasn’t sure about it and where I had a slight sense that the film wasn’t going to do much, but it kept on winning me over and it’s second half is really quite something. First and foremost Nölle’s film is a cautionary tale about not so much where we are headed but where we are now, but it’s also a fascinating psychological study and a love story of a most original kind. It’s very meaningful, very timely and very poignant, while I think that most viewers, despite the way the two central characters are, will be able to identify with it at times, even just the powerful emotions that many scene brought out in me. In any case, a great new young filmmaker is in town and his name is Tobias Nölle.