Director: Aron Lehmann (Germany). Year of Release: 2022
A small village in Westerwald in the centre of what was once West Germany. Luise, who is now possibly in the 30s. explains that she is about to tell a story about her grandmother Selma. It’s a story of Love and Death, she says, which are the most important subjects that a story can cover. After a brief scene showing the older Luise writing at night, we go back 30 years to when she was still 10 years old.
The film shows many love stories, but that between Luise’s parents is not one of them. We are told that they didn’t love each other. Luise’s mother Astrid, who ran the local flower shop, preferred Alberto who was in charge of the village ice cream shop. Alberto’s real name is Panajotis, but who’d buy ice cream from a Greek man? Luise’s childhood was mainly spent living with her grandmother Selma.
Selma has a special gift. Whenever she dreams of an Okapi, someone in the village dies within 24 hours. Luise is similarly talented. Whenever she tells a lie, there is an accident in the room she is in and something falls to the ground. The young Luise spends most of her time with Martin, who was born a few hours before her. Martin has a difficult relationship with his violent father Palm, and for a while it seems that Luise and Martin will provide one of the film’s organic love stories..
Other characters appear and disappear, such as the laconic and suicidal Marlies, who does not let a scowl leave her lips. Marlies refuses to leave her house, but she does invite Luise and Martin in to eat her inedible cooking. Then there’s Elsbeth, Selma’s esoteric sister-in-law, who opens her house up to a group of Buddhists. Among them is Frederik, originally from Hessen, but he went to Japan and returned dressed in black robes and a crew cut.
One day, Luise’s dog, Alaska, goes missing. At first, Luise has visions of Alaska being run over by a passing van (for not the only time in the film, we see a horrific scene, which has only really happened in the imagination of one of its characters). Having ascertained that Alaska is just on the run, Luise gives chase through the countryside, where she is joined by Frederik, sneaking sweeties into his mouth. From then on, he is another potential love interest for the peculiar teenager.
Perhaps the most important character outside Luise’s immediate family is a quiet man with a moustache who is only ever referred to as “the optician”. The optician is secretly in love with Selma, but doesn’t dare express his love. Every time he meets her, he starts writing a love letter to her, explaining why “a propos” the day’s events, his feelings for her are particularly relevant. These letters remain unread, and full of crossings out, until a scene on Selma’s death bed.
I often have problems with German comedies, which could be as much a problem with me as with the film makers. It’s partly not knowing all the context, or it being hard to follow wordplay in a different language. But it can also be because there are certain types of humour which are popular in Germany, which I just don’t find to be that funny (don’t be too quick to judge. Would you like all British and Irish comedy to be judged on how much someone likes Mrs Brown’s Boys?)
But Was man von hier aus sehen kann has more depth and more silliness, than the average German comedy. There is something of a fairy tale about it – although all scenes are played straight, there’s something about them which doesn’t quite belong in the real world. A number of reviewers have mentioned Amelie, and while I don’t think that the comparisons exactly hold up, there is a certain unworldliness common to both films.
It’s hard to exactly put a finger on exactly what makes this film different. It is partly because it has a sense of what is funny and what is not. There is just something slightly ridiculous about the word okapi which makes it the perfect animal to cause premonitions of death. This, like other scenes, are ridiculous enough to be strange and humorous, but not so much that they make the film implausible. It is just the right level of silly.
Above all, I think that the film – and presumably the best-selling book on which it was based – succeeds because although it is perhaps a little too quirky, it can never be accused of going for a cheap feel-good feeling. This is a film in which children die and parents split up. Although it delivers on its promise to provide a story of love and death, it does not forget the trivial silly bits in between. It’s ultimately a piece of fluff, but in Times Like These fluff serves its purpose.
And maybe this is the point. Was man von hier aus sehen kann does not take place in the present. There is no galloping inflation, no mobile phones, nothing to remind us of the hectic of modern society. It takes place in a society which would be almost certainly deeply boring to live in full time, but provides a welcome relief for a 2 hour excursion. This is a film which does not talk about the class struggle, but gives us time to refresh ourselves before we head back into that fight.