Axiom

Director: Jöns Jönsson (Germany). Year of Release: 2022

An art gallery in Cologne. We follow a security guard performing his officious duties – telling people off for taking photographs, listening in as a teacher tells her class about a De Stijl painting’s use of primary colours, telling his colleague to chastise a visitor for daring to drink. Back in the staff room, he chats with the colleague, who’s from lower Austria, new in town, and is still working out his probation. Another colleague passes by and says she’s looking forward to their sailing weekend.

Cut to: the sailing week-end. Julius has spontaneously invited the newbie Erik along, much to the distress of his co-workers. He then gets very agitated when he learns that none of them has brought along a life jacket. Didn’t he tell them all to bring one? (by their reaction, it seems that he didn’t). Some time along the way, he tells them he’s descended from royalty (“on my mother’s side”). To be honest, they all deserve each other and you don’t know which one to despise most.

In the life jacket shop, Julius has an epileptic fit. Or maybe he doesn’t. Perhaps he’s faking it. To be honest, by this time I’ve already stopped caring. Julius is behaving a little oddly, but less intriguing odd, than irritating and needs a good slap odd. He seems to be doing his best to strive for the attention of his colleagues, but rather than finding better people to spend their week-ends with, they just indulge him. So it’s hard to see why he feels the need to hospitalise himself.

The main titles roll. We have been going for 50 minutes and there’s still much more to come.

We follow Julius through dinner parties, singing recitals and loud clubs as he passes himself off as an architect. He brags that he runs a small company and encourages his 14 employees to make their own decisions. He steals anecdotes that he has heard on the tram and makes out that they are his own experiences. Every so often, he utters a pseudo-philosophical comment which I think is supposed to sound profound, but makes less sense the more you think about it.

Julius has a girlfriend, Marie, who is an opera singer. We watch her in rehearsals with a director who insists on speaking English throughout, although he understands the finest nuances when the singers reply in German (this is a trait that he continues in real life, if dining out with rich Germans counts as real life). The director is dissatisfied with Marie’s singing, but unable to express why. It is all very frustrating, both for Marie and for those of us having to watch it all dragging past.

Marie also laughs at Julius’s jokes. Very loudly. I’m not sure if this is supposed to be ironic, as Julius’s witticisms are just not at all funny. Is Marie trying to win his affection? Is she slightly hysterical? From what I can tell, no – like all the other characters, she is genuinely supposed to find Julius charming and hilarious, despite all evidence to the contrary.

If this were intended to be a savage satire of the superficiality of the upper-middle classes, it would be no less tedious but at least there would be some point to it all. Instead, as far as I can tell, we’re supposed to like Julius, or maybe respect him. At the very least, we’re supposed to find it plausible that all these people want to hear what he has to say. It is like sharing a party with a bore who keeps droning on, but everyone else is too pissed to notice they’re saying nothing of any interest.

Julius is neither fascinating nor repulsive. He is simply bland, even though everyone in his orbit seems to hang on his every word. The stories that he tells may be made up, but they’re not particularly gripping. As you watch him in action, your main question is “why?” Not so much why does he bother making up these tales, but why did the film makers find it so important to tell us? As far as I was concerned at least, it all came over like a great “Meh!”

There is a certain type of self-important German film that does well at the Berlinale and gains great critical acclaim. These films truly believe that they are imparting great insights about the human condition, but what they actually have to offer is generally superficial inanities. They inhabit a social sphere that is so alien to me that I find it impossible to relate. Axiom is one of those films.

Other opinions are, of course, welcome. Axiom got great reviews. I just find it hard to understand why.

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