Director: Dietrich Brüggemann (Germany). Year of Release: 2021
Dina and Michael are are professional couple – she’s an actress, he’s a surgeon. She’s wondering if their relationship is going anywhere, but thinks that maybe it’s time to have some kids. He’s fine with how things are. They keep nearly getting around to organise getting married, without ever quite doing anything about it.
Nö is the sort of film that they call transgressive, or maybe even quirky. Things happen that challenge any sense of logic. In the middle of an operation, the man who Michael is operating wakes up and start lecturing him about where is life is going. Later on, his dentist does the same, bringing out the love of his life who moved to Vienna but is apparently back working as the dentist’s receptionist. Except this is a different woman.
The film show us snippets of a relationship. A series of largely unrelated scenes which are separated in both content and time (each starts with the text “Two months later”, “Three years later”, etc.). All the scenes are slightly surreal. They leave a maternity hospital through gunfire, they listen to the baby monitor as the person on the other end starts as a baby and ends as an adolescent.
Other scenes are more scatalogical. A funeral is starting with a woman singing, accompanied by a child playing an accordion. A man appears from the background, stands over the grave and turns his back to us. He pulls down his trousers and starts to try and shit on the coffin. Some of the mourners confront him, others just look away embarrassed. I know how the latter group feels.
Nö was loved by the critics, and at least parts of the pretty full cinema where I saw it regularly laughed at the on screen absurdities. I must say, though, that it left me entirely cold. When Michael tells to story (more than once) about how they kept a railway carriage to themselves by kissing whenever anyone went past, I think we’re supposed to be impressed. To me, it just reeked of selfish privilege.
Nö aspires to be like films by the Swedish director Roy Anderson, which seem largely realistic, but there’s something slightly wrong. But whereas Anderson’s films are usually hilarious, the jokes in Nö just don’t work – for me at least. They are just too self-aware, trying too much to be strange for the sake of it, and leave behind the feeling of a young child standing up in church, pulling his trousers down and shouting “Me, me, me.”
I realise that this film is supposed to be a meditation of the life difficulties of young professionals in a beautiful relationship that is fraying at the edges – but this is a group of people for who I have little interest and even less sympathy. Maybe if I shared Dina and Michael’s worries and neuroses, the film might start to speak to me. But I don’t and it didn’t.
Your attitude to the film as a whole may depend on how you respond to one long scene about halfway through. Dina is on one of those actors’ workshops where everyone stands in a circle, and congratulate each other. One wears a hat. It is led by a US-American woman who asks them to encounter the thing that they most fear.
Dina volunteers to be the first one to take an exercise, and the American woman tells everyone to close their eyes. She asks Dina to imagine she is entering a house, descending to the cellar and opening a door at the end of the hallway. What does she see? Now how have you responded so far? Does this sound like you like a work of innovative genius, or did you scream “Oh, for fucks sake!” at the top of your voice? (I hope it wasn’t just me).
I don’t know if anything like this sort of workshop exists in real life, but if it is, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near it. It is so self-asorbed, so full of mystic psycho-babble, so little to do with, er, acting. I have no idea whether we’re supposed to find it ridiculous or a realistic portrait of the acting community. And I really don’t care.
“Nö” is a lovely German word – a more colloquial way of saying “No”. It’s best accompanied with whatever the German equivalent is of a gallic shrug. It’s a way of not just saying that you don’t want something, but that you don’t want anything to do with it and hope you don’t see anything like it ever again. Can you see where I’m going with this one? Maybe I’d best just leave it there.