Wunderschön

Director: Karoline Herfurth (Germany). Year of Release: 2022

Julie is a pretty, comfortably off, white model and influencer. But she’s worried that her belly is growing slightly too large. She takes a dangerous cocktail of weight-loss drugs, and when she eats a croissant in one of her videos to her followers, she spits it out immediately afterwards. Julie is adopted by a neighbour’s daughter, who seems to lack attention at home, but spending time on anyone other than herself is not Julie’s forte.

Frauke, Julie’s mother, is probably too old to be considered pretty by the people who think that these things matter. But she’s definitely comfortably off and white. Frauke is worried that the excitement is going out of her marriage with Wolfi. She tries to wake him up with a blow job, but he doesn’t really respond. Wolfi has taken early retirement and seems quite content for life to go on at its current slow pace.

Frauke enrols them on a tango course with an instructor with slicked back hair. Wolfi goes reluctantly, but leaves during the first lesson, finding it all a little ridiculous. Frauke continues to go on her own, and sneaks an illicit kiss with the instructor. Although she confesses it to Wolfi, you get the feeling that she is swamped with regret that her life didn’t add up to more.

Sonja, Julie’s sister-in-law, is a pretty, comfortably off, white housewife. She is going stir crazy from staying at home with the kids. Life is now a mad dash to the kindergarten while balancing the baby on her knee and noticing that children’s books have very few positive roll models for girls. For all Wunderschön’s supposedly groundbreaking feminist insights, some of it’s discoveries are, to put it politely, not very new.

It’s been 4 years now since Sonja first went part time, then lost her job because her boss couldn’t cope with a working mother. In all this time she never appears to have spoken to her husband Milan about this until the day she gets herself a job interview on the following morning. This causes a crisis because Milan doesn’t have the sort of job where you can pull a sickie, ie a job like most people who aren’t unemployed. I’m sure he’s much better paid than us, too.

Vicky, Julie’s best friend, is a pretty, comfortably off, white art teacher. She is slightly more sympathetic than her friends, and also more cynical. When she nearly knocks down Franz, the new sports teacher, in the car park, she sets off the chain reaction that threatens to lead to a new relationship. But Vicky is having none of this. Even after a snogging session in her car, Vicky offers Franz one night of sex, that’s all. She doesn’t do that relationship shit.

Vicky does appear to be an inspirational teacher. There is one scene which alone makes the film worth seeing. Vicky asks her kids to draw themselves, colouring the bits they’re proud of in red and those they’re ashamed of in blue. Of course, one of the boys draws everything in red, including an unfeasibly sized penis. The girls’ pictures contain more blue. Then Vicky asks, did any of you include anything that’s not part of your appearance? Of course, no-one did.

Leyla is one of Vicky’s students. She is pretty, but she’s a little chubby, so she doesn’t pass the beauty myth. As she’s a teenager, she has no wealth to speak of. And she’s played by the German-Turkish actor Dilara Aylin Ziem, so she doesn’t count as white in Germany. When Vicky asks her class to draw the red-blue self portrait, Leyla draws nothing at all.

And yet, for all that, Leyla seems happier and better adjusted than any of her “grown up” counterparts. Yes she is teased about her appearance at school, but she has learned to live with this better than any of the richer, whiter, “prettier” adults. She has also recently discovered two passions – baseball, which her estranged father used to play, but not to a professional level, and one of the local boys.

Much of the (largely uncritical) reportage of Wunderschön mentions that it depicts all types of women. It really doesn’t. While this isn’t exactly girlboss feminism – the protagonists aren’t bosses, but neither are they horny handed daughters of the proletariat. They are all comfortably off and live in large houses. They have problems, sure, but they are not the problems experienced by people like uz.

Of course it’s great that Wunderschön has something to say about body positivity, that it’s a film with decent parts for women. But it is nowhere near as groundbreaking as it would like to think it is. This is a story of the smug, middle class, who only need a nice group hug. In the film, problems are solved by chopping your hair off or knocking down the wall between the kitchen and the dining room. There are no violent partners, no desperation because you have no money, no-one staying in an abusive relationship because they can’t afford to do anything else.

For all the marketing speak about not being ashamed of your body, only Leyla, and maybe Frauke, are not conventionally beautiful. The ultimate message seems to be that if you’re rich and good looking and white, it doesn’t really matter if your husband ignores you, or if you ignore your children. Things will work out in the end. And if you’re poor, ugly or dark-skinned then it’s probably your own fault and you’ve no place in a film like this. Ultimately, this is slightly less rapey Richard Curtis land.

Worth watching for the scenes with Leyla, and some with Vicky, but don’t believe the hype.

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