Director: Mareille Klein (Germany). Year of Release: 2021
A woman in her early sixties is trying to remove a spider from her ceiling. She stands on a stool and tries to entrap it in a glass. She leans over a little too far, and topples over into the wooden floor, creating a hole in which she is trapped. She tries banging on the window,, but none of the neighbours hears. She remains trapped until her cleaner Isabella arrives and is able to call the ambulance.
Helga has sprained her ankle but damaged a lot of pride. She rings her daughter Miriam, who asks what she can do to help. Helga says it’s nothing serious (she does have a point here), so Miriam says she’ll come if she’s needed, but has a lot going on at the moment. Helga convinces Miriam to get Helga’s estranged husband and get him to bring round a pair of crutches. When he comes round and rings on the door, he is gone by the time Helga has hobbled to the door.
Helga asks Isabella if she’s organised cover for her coming holidays. Of course she has. But when the cover arrives, Helga is irritated. Firstly, he’s a man. Secondly he starts up the washing machine, when anyone knows that’s not his job. He uses the wrong cloth to clean things. Thirdly he’s Polish and speaks little German – and Helga knows no Polish or English. He introduces himself as Ryszard, to which her immediate response is “ok, I’ll call you Richard.”
Helga has a comp to the opera, and none of her friends can go. She invites Ryszard along, and they seem to be enjoying themselves until Helga has an immediate need to leave the concert hall. They push past the audience members between them and the aisles – Ryszard apologetically, Helga as if they were deliberately getting in her way. Outside, she explains that he saw her husband in the audience, together with his new girlfriend.
“New” is a relative term. Helga and her husband had been separated for 2 years, but she is a control freak who is unable to get on with her life. She is increasingly exasperated by Ryszard’s every move, until he finds a 90s mix tape and dances along as he’s doing the cleaning. At first, Helga looks appalled – this is most definitely not her sort of music, but before long they’re dancing together and not much later they’re sleeping together and doing the IKEA walk of death.
Helga’s main pleasure, possible her only one, is playing cards and drinking wine with three other women, next to the swimming pool which one of them has in their garden. One of the women also employs Ryszard as a handyman. She wheedles out of Helga, that she is seeing her Polish cleaner – even though this is an excruciating admission for someone like Helga. The woman invites Helga to take Ryszard to her coming birthday party.
At the party, Helga holds Ryszard at an arm’s length, When he tries to put his arm around her, she shies away, claiming that she’s allergic to the hairs of the dog that he’s been petting. When her friends pester him, demanding to know why he hasn’t learned German yet, she doesn’t rush to his defence. On the contrary, she turns her head in shame. She is a lonely woman who seems to want the relationship for the sake of having a relationship, but she still has her pride.
There are some German comedies that I don’t get on with, possibly because I don’t get all of the cultural references, or because the dialogue is too quick for me to fully appreciate the witty banter. This is not one of those. There are no hidden subtleties waiting to be uncovered. It is what it is – a pedestrian satire on middle class pretensions. I have rarely been to a film where I cared so little about the protagonists. They didn’t annoy me – I couldn’t raise enough emotion for that.
I say it is a comedy. Da kommt noch was was advertised as such, though that would imply that there are some jokes, or at very least, humorous situations. The German critics seem to have loved it, of course. What was plain dull to me, they saw as “laconic” and “finely observed”. If you say so. All it does is show a group of people with too much money behave deplorably and ask us to laugh along at how radical it is to look at them with slight disapproval.
I’m not sure that this could ever have been a good film, but it misses so many opportunities to at the very least be slightly relevant. I suppose at the very least it has noticed that class is a thing, and that not everyone lives as luxuriously as Helga. We pay a brief visit to the house that Ryszard shares with some other foreign workers. There’s not much space, but it seems homely enough. The film may have thought to mention class, but it doesn’t know what to do with it.
Similarly, most of the other characters are drawn with such broad brush strokes that we can’t really care for them. You get the feeling that visiting her mother is a chore for Miriam, but we never really see anything from her point of view. We don’t see much from anyone’s point of view apart from Helga’s. And she simply isn’t interesting enough for us to care too much about what she sees or how she sees it.
Other views are possible but I honestly don’t know what the point of this film was.