Rémy and Mélanie live in adjoining houses, with a view of Montmarte at the back and the railway track at the front. They have never met, but their lives are in sync. They visit the same chemist and go to the same Arab supermarket, where the proprietor always talks them into buying the more expensive foodstuff. Rémy inherits, then loses a cat, which finds a home in Mélanie’s flat next door.
Most of the film is like the cartoon video for Ben Folds’ and Nich Hornby’s “From Above” – a series of chance non-meetings of a couple who never quite find each other: “once at a bookstore, once at a party // She came in as he was leaving and years ago at the movies // She sat behind him, the 6:30 showing of ‘While You Were Sleeping’” Or the Parisian equivalent.
Rémy works in a warehouse where most of his colleagues have just been sacked and replaced by robots. No problem, though, management like him and have found him a new job … in the call centre. Mélanie does the sort of medical-based job that means that you have to wear a white coat, and give presentations to top management, which is freaking Mélanie out.
Both Rémy and Mélanie have sleeping disorders – he has insomnia while she sleeps too much. When he has a panic attack in the Métro, he starts to see a psychotherapist for depression. The psychotherapist is one of those who waits for you to say something, and the first session is one of embarrassing silences (I too have lived this experience), but after a while, the therapist starts to help (that is an experience I haven’t lived). In parallel, Mélanie regularly visits a different psychotherapist to deal with her depression.
Mélanie’s and Rémy’s love lives are also similar but different. She surrounds herself with a coterie of BFFs, who encourage her to go on unsuccessful Tinder dates. Meanwhile Rémy spends most of his time alone, though he has a series of romantic misunderstandings with a work colleague. If only they could get together. I wonder if that will happen by the end?
There are a number of things to like about Einsam, Zweisam. For a start, its not afraid to show the attendant lords of life. Rémy and Mélanie are both single, fairly shy, and a little bit lonely. They’re not thrusting, go-getting executives. If you asked them, they’d say that their lives weren’t quite on track but wouldn’t really be able to articulate why. In short, they are far more human and likeable than the lead characters of most films.
This makes the film very affable, and its generally a pleasure to follow these aimless lives. It also raises some interesting questions about finding love in a society dominated by dating apps, without actually being as profound as it thinks it is. And yet its very difficult to make a film about alienation and boredom without being a bit, well, boring. Just like the directionless lives in front of us, the film often drags and many scenes seem unnecessary.
We also all know where this is going to end. Its a concept that must have sounded really neat in the ideas phase – let’s show what happens to people before their relationship gets going. But this very device removes all tension and jeopardy. Its nice getting a little bit lost along the winding sidestreets, but we know from the start where we’re going to end up.
I also have a bigger problem with the film, which is difficult to fully articulate without plot spoilers, but let’s try. For most of the film, we see a sensitive depiction of depression, and how it can also affect “normal” people. Rémy has great difficulties getting his family to understand that he can be depressed without fulfilling lazy stereotypes about “craziness”. This is one of the film’s great strengths.
And yet in order to reach its Happy Ever After conclusion, the film makes a sharp 180° turn just before then end. Suddenly all Rémy needs to do is confront a childhood tragedy, and Mélanie must just learn to love herself a little more, and suddenly all their problems seem to have gone away. Its as if they weren’t depressed at all and just needed to pull themselves together.
This is a shame, as despite the various weaknesses, Einsam, Zweisam does take on one of the great underdiscussed problems of modern society. Cinema does not have a proud history of addressing mental illness, and for a long while, this film is a cut above your average lazy depiction of gibbering pychopaths. I guess the fact that it falls at the last hurdle doesn’t mean that the race wasn’t worthwhile.
So, do go along to see what the film is trying to do, even if it is in the end an honourable failure. Given the choice between showing mental anguish and delivering a happy love story, it ultimately jumps towards routine sentimentality. But although the trip may be sometimes a bit too dull, in the end it’s worth your time.