Director: Nicolette Krebitz (France, Germany). Year of Release: 2022
A random police station, where the cops speak French to each other and English to their witness. On the other side of a pane of glass, five dark-haired men line up. On command they first look to the left, then forwards. They each hold a piece of card – A, E, I, O and U. A and E are in the wrong order, so they swap places.
The woman looks at the men and takes her time. When the officer asks her why she needs so long, she reminds him that she is, after all, an actress. As she seems to be thinking deeply, we see a shot of her having sex. Finally, she says, no, she doesn’t recognise anyone. She leaves the police station. The officer says Auf Wiedersehen to her, and she says Au Revoir to him.
Flashback to a recording studio, where 2 actors are recording a radio play. He is very Method, especially when it comes to the romantic parts. During a love scene, he gropes his partner, Anna. She storms out. As the (female) producer comes out to intervene he ridicules the idea that he would fancy a woman her age (that is to say, someone who is roughly his own age).
As Anna strides down a busy street, someone suddenly snatches her handbag outside a bar. Although the thief has a good head start on the couple who were inside the bar, somehow they track him down and catch him in an alley. They retrieve and return the handbag but not the purse which was inside it. The woman is traumatized from her day, and sets up an elaborate contraption of strings and bells so that she’s aware of any possible disturbance to her front door.
Shortly afterwards, she’s called in by her doctor. A patient of his is an orphan who’s on his third set of foster parents in a short time. The kid is due to perform in a school play, but just doesn’t have the presence or confidence to carry it out. Could Anna help out with some voice coaching? Anna is falling behind in the rent, so she agrees. This is how Adrian, a nerdy looking mumbly teenager in thick glasses rings at her door. She immediately recognises the kid who stole her handbag.
For the first half hour, AEIOU feels like it has a lot of potential. Anna is an interesting character – an actor now in her sixties who is possibly past her prime, or more likely someone who’s face just didn’t fit. At one stage she cooks soup for Adrian while he watches an old television interview of hers (why does she show him this, exactly?). We see her battling smug male tv presenters who just want to talk about how she used to look, and why they, too, wouldn’t sleep with someone her age.
Despite this early potential, the film ultimately doesn’t really go anywhere. Better said, maybe, it goes all over the place. Physically, to the Cote D’Azure, where – after a protracted “will they, won’t they period” (look, this has been billed as a romance, we know they will). Anna and Adrian head off to the South of France to visit casinos, commit random petty theft and go swimming naked in the sea. This has none of the excitement that it may seem to suggest.
At one stage they make newspaper masks and go down the main street stealing shoppers’ handbags. A number of reviewers have described this scene as an hommage to Jean-Luc Godard’s Beathless (tip: if several reviewers make this sort of random remark, it was written in the press kit). The trouble is, Sophie Rois and Milan Herms are decent enough actors at what they do, but they don’t have any of the elegant charm of Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg.
This is one of those scenes which is charming if the viewer is on board, but otherwise, you (by which I mean I) sit back incredulously saying “well, that would never happen”. The street is full. They do not try to be subtle with their bag lifting. Yet not one person even notices what they are doing? There are rather too many scenes which stretch our credulity a little too much (see also, the police officer going for a coffee and leaving a vital piece of evidence to play to an empty room).
Films require their audiences to feel something for the main protagonists. For romances, you need to feel a little sympathy – even if the Love Object is allowed to be a bit of a bastard for a while before we reach the final reconciliation. But in AEIOU I just didn’t feel much at all, positive or negative. Anna seems to be interesting at first, but promises more than she delivers. You wish her well in a bland sort of way, but you’re not really rooting for her.
Similarly, Adrian progresses from nerd to hero in a way that doesn’t really address the audience. Somewhere along the way he ditches the glasses and starts wearing cooler clothes – Anna even gets him a white suit. And yet he never shows any real feelings or beliefs. Maybe this is the point – that love transcends all barriers, but it doesn’t make Adrian any more interesting to us.
I’m sure there is an audience out there for AEIOU, even though I’m not sure who it is. It is well filmed, the acting is competent, there are even some pretty scenes or the rolling Mediterranean and a little gratuitous nudity. And it seems to have ambitions to be deep and meaningful. There’s nothing really wrong with it, either. You’re just not so sure what the point of it all is.