Directors: Benoît Delépine, Gustave Kervern (France, Belgium). Year of Release: 2020
Marie has a problem. Well, she has several problems, which is why she ended up pissed in a bar drinking double whiskies. She remembers a stranger entering the bar and asking her to buy him a drink, but nothing after that. Which is a shame, as he’s now regularly calling her and threatening to put the sextape that he made of them online where her 15 year old son will see it. He’s demanding €10,000, but since her divorce she has no money.
Marie’s neighbour Bertrand also has a problem. After his wife died, he’s been left to look after their daughter on his own. But she’s being bullied at school and doesn’t want to go in any more. There’s also a video of her being bullied, but that’s already been put online. Bertrand would like to take it down, but doesn’t know how.
Sex tapes and online mobbing are serious issues which could be the subject of a great film If they are handled sensitively. Unfortunately, Online für Anfänger is a comedy. And not even a satirical comedy that holds the powerful into account but one of those “observational” comedies, where someone tells you things that you already know and smugly expects you to laugh.
So, yes, we get jokes about passwords being difficult to remember, of the need to have a different charger for each make of phone, and of “free” helplines which charge exorbitant rates. It probably looked funny in the writers’ room to show a woman waiting for ever for someone to answer her call – and then being outside when they answer. When shown in real time, its both dull, predictable, and nothing that we haven’t seen many times before.
One problem with Online für Anfänger is that it has radical pretensions – the three protagonists met in the Yellow Vest movement and sing radical songs as they drive to their next destination – but its main critique is a generational attack on new technology which is too hard for older people to understand. If only we lived back in the times when all we had to communicate long distance were a pair of cans and a piece of string.
Three protagonists? Well yes, there’s also Christine, but for most of the time, her problem seems to be on a different level. Having lost her job in a nuclear power plant, she’s become an Uber driver but is being consistently marked down with 1 star reviews. It feels a little insensitive to put Christine’s dilemma on the same level as severe sexual harassment and mobbing, even if we later find out that the bad reviews have been engineered by her bosses to keep her under control.
But this is the general way in which the film works. A whole horde of predicaments are presented to us with different levels of seriousness and little in common except they are aöö something to do with rampant technology. So, one minute we’re asked to worry about Christine’s tv addiction, another about Bertrand’s obsession with a sales bot who keeps ringing him, apparently from Mauritius. And these are presented on the same level as Marie’s sexual blackmail.
This is partly because there really isn’t enough to sustain Online für Anfanger for a full 100 minutes. The start is slow and slightly confusion, but by the time we have been presented with the three protagonists and their one or two individual problems, there’s nothing much more to tell us. There is certainly no dramatic tension in their attempts to solve these problems.
In the end the solution comes partly from visiting a stereotyped super-hacker called “God”, partly in an unsuccessful trip to Global Big Tech in Palo Alto, who – strangely enough – refuse to open their doors to an odd French woman, and partly by the protagonists closing their eyes and wishing their problems away. Having set up a potentially interesting obstacle which is to be surmounted, the whole thing is just sidestepped and shrugged off as an insurmountable problem of modernity.
I was shocked to find out that this is a film that was created by the makers of Aaltra, a film that is both subversive and very funny. It’s been a while since I saw it but I also seem to remember Aaltra also having some sort of structure. This is just a 3 minute sketch extended way too long – and it wasn’t even that funny a sketch to begin with.