Director: Natja Bruckhorst (Germany). Year of Release: 2022
A better off housing block, full of bigger flats than the ones you or I live in. Some workmen haul a washing machine up the stairs. A woman opens the door but is reluctant to let them in. They tell her that installation is included in the price, but she signs their docket and sends them on their way. On her own, she does her best to shove the heavy machine through a long hallway where both walls are filled from ceiling to floor with books.
As the camera enters the rest of the flat, we see that Marlen has a hoarding problem – if indeed you think that having lots of stuff is a problem, or that there is such a thing as too many books. Marlen develops an emotional attachment to all her purchases. It’s not just books that are piled high in her flat: there are also vases, lamps and a bread maker that no longer works.
Fynn lives in the flat above Marlen. He is significantly younger than her, and has a much less cluttered lifestyle. He doesn’t seem to own much more than a laptop and a few pairs of socks, although it looks like his minimalist flat is just as big as hers. Apparently Fynn is an IT expert, but he’s lacking in practical skills. When trying to adjust the heating, he breaks the radiator. This results in floods of water on his floor, which eventually drip down to the flat below.
When neighbours calls the security guards on Fynn for using his laptop in the communal garage (yes, it’s definitely that sort of neighbourhood), he knocks on Marlen’s door. Sorry about the water damage to your Russian books, but could you put me up? She agrees, but for one night only. In the morning he sulkily refuses to go, however much Marlen orders him out. But when he takes out some of Marlen’s accumulated stuff, she holds up her keys triumphantly and makes for the door.
This is where the film starts to get stupid. Well, more stupid. Rather than double locking the door and tells Fynn to piss off for his rude and entitled behaviour, Marlen lets him in. You see, she wants him to solve her problem. Even though Fynn has shown no consideration for anyone except himself, Marlen thinks he’s ideally suited to help her stop hoarding stuff.
Marlen’s problems intensify when the landlord comes and threatens a visit to inspect the water damage. She has 3 days to tidy up and worries that the flat is so cluttered, it will result in her eviction. For the first 2½ days she dithers. Then (PLOT SPOILER ALERT) she and Fynn move some stuff around a little so that they are now colour coordinated. Problem solved in a couple of hours. The landlord goes on his way, seeing nothing to complain about.
Aller in Bester Ordnung sets up a problem, which is no problem at all – it’s not as if Marlen’s hoarding is hurting anyone. It then resolves the problem by implying that the apparently insurmountable crisis could be solved by a little light cleaning. It’s leads are also implausible. Marlen and Fynn have little in common, apart from a certain social awkwardness, so it makes liitle sense when they quickly swing from mutual distrust to close friendship.
I can just about accept that social pressure would cause Marlen to be ashamed of workmen seeing her hall full of books (even though it looks fantastic). But the film goes much further than this. Marlen is depicted as being ill. There is only one moment when her “illness” is seen as being anything more than a personal failing. This is when he can’t throw away a bell because it holds a sentimental value for her.
It’s just a shame her attachment to this bell is because she used as a kid to demand the attention of her mother. Her house was too big for her mother to hear her call, and the young Marlen was persumably too lazy to walk over to her mother, or even to sort out her own problems. I think we are supposed to identify with this everyday childhood experience.
The film repeatedly wants us to believe there are some problems that money can’t solve. At the same time, most problems that we see in the film can easily be solved with a bit of cash. Someone who lives in a flat as big as Marlen’s can surely afford a container and to hire a couple of men to take away her stuff, at least until the landlord’s visit is over. And though Fynn is only in town for a short term (and well paid) job, it seems to be out of the question for him to book a cheap room.
It’s also a film that obviously worships at the altar of Marie Kondo. Indeed, one review opens with a length citation from a report about so-called ‘Messies’ who experience “the inner chaos that shows itself outwardly. It is as if you block and sit paralysed on a chair in the middle of chaos and just can’t do anything.”
It’s a point of view, and yes, there are people who have improved their sense of well-being by removing the clutter. But insinuating that clutter and chaos are of themselves problematic is just a little totalitarian. At no time in the film does Marlen appear to by paralysed – she holds down a skilled job as an orthodontist and her biggest problem appears to be letting her boss know that she’s not really interested in him. Not in that way anyway.
This is a film which is so smugly confident of its prejudices that it doesn’t consider that anyone might not share them. If you grew up summoning your mother by ringing a little bell in a different wing of the house, this may well be the film for you. The rest of us might have to look elsewhere.