Director: Lars Jessen (Germany). Year of Release: 2022
1965. Brinkebüll. North Friesland in the “deep North” of Germany. A blonde teenage girl is lying in a hayfield having a smoke. In the tin in which she keeps her ciggies, there are a load of stones from local fields.
Cut to: 1976. Still Brinkebüll. A blonde young woman who must be – ooh – 11 years older than the girl in the previous scene is looking at the planes in the sky leaving trails. “The world is going to end” she shrieks, holding tight onto her copy of the Watchtower.
Cut to: 2012. Kiel. Not too far from Brinkebüll in distance, but a world away in attitude. Kiel is a University city, and lecturer Ingwer is telling his class that he’s not going to be around next term. He’s taking a sabbatical to go and look after his ageing parents in, you guessed it, Brinkebüll. When he arrives “home”, his “Mudda” barely recognises him. His “Vadda” does, but sees him more as an inconvenience than a prodigal returned.
The film switches regularly between different times. We see Marret again, Marret is the woman from the first 2 scenes. She’s wearing a black and white dress and singing, backed by male musicians playing simple chords on their guitar, bass and drums. Marret has some sort of psychological problems, but when she sings on stage, she is able to connect.
We return to the present (well, 10 years ago), as Ingwer tries to deal with his mother’s crawling dementia. Did I say mother? We learn in the course of the film that she is his grandmother – Ingwer’s mother being the blonde Marret who opened the film. Whatever, Marret is not here any more, apart from a photo on the wall of her singing, and a home which seems to be a permanent shrine to her memory.
Meanwhile Mudda / Großmudda / whatever is losing control of both her mind and her bodily functions. She pisses whenever she needs to, irrespective of her proximity to a toilet. She wanders into the street and passing traffic. As her husband has stopped paying attention, Ingwer feels compelled to look after her, helping her to the toilet when he’s not bathing his father. The family is coping, but only just.
Dad / Granddad / whatever else has never forgiven Ingwer for leaving home and going to University, not taking on the family job of running the guest house they run from the family home. Ingwer unsuccessfully tries to convince his (grand)parents that it’s time to give it all up – few people stay or eat there anyway, and the main money seems to be made from the line dancing classes that are held by one of Ingwer’s old school friends in the drawing room.
When did everything turn sour? The flashbacks show a gradual degeneracy. There’s the creeping gentrification, when tractors invaded the village and threatened to destroy its old memorials. As the fields became homogenized, the schools and public facilities shut, and Brinkebüll increasingly became a village that only really existed in the past. This is what Ingwer was trying to escape when he moved to Kiel, but in making this move he also became part of the problem.
Just about everyone in Mittagsstunde is curt and offhand with each other. This is not the sort of place where you talk about emotions. When Ingwer feels like he has to emote, he gets into his car, puts on the radio, and drives away and parks somewhere where no-one can see him getting all unnecessary. Ingwer is both aloof and a little beaten by life. Luckily, few people look crumpled and defeated better than Charly Hübner. Ingwer will survive, even though he’ll never be fully in control.
Mittagsstunde is based on a best-selling novel, and it does have that sort of feel. Director Lars Jessen has said that this is his “Director’s Cut” which is barely 90 minutes, and anyone who wants more should read the book. Nonetheless, as in many popular novels, things still happen between people who you vaguely care about, but not so much that it really matters. I wanted to be excired about what was happening, but too much left me cold.
Maybe it works better if you’re from Northern Germany, or you’re having a personal crisis about your relationship with your parents, or you live in a big city and miss the countryside. I don’t feel any of these things, not remotely. This makes me feel just a bit too distant from everything that’s going on. The film is interesting enough In an abstract way, but it’s not at all compelling. Not for me, anyway.
Some interesting things have been done with Mittagsstunde. They recorded 2 versions, one in dialect, one in “High German” (well, they say High German. Even this version contained more local accents than most films). It is also solidly acted, and there is nothing actually wrong with it (which puts it above many, if not most, films being released at the moment). It is ok. And if you want to see an ok film, this one’s as good as any other.