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by Jay Seaver

"The tricky work of discovering yourself in middle age."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2016 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Filmmaker Tobias Nölle initially entices viewers with a version of "Aloys" that is not quite so internal, with a mystery to sole and perhaps an unnerving way of things playing out, before settling into something that better matches its withdrawn title character, and it's the mark of how well he handles the film that this never feels like a bait-and-switch; it smoothly moves into more reflective territory while still being more interesting to watch than just a man lost in self-contemplation.

Not that Aloys Adorn (Georg Friedrich) really spends much time considering his feelings or place in the world. A private investigator by trade, he works to be hidden as he follows cheating husbands, although he'll often put something small in his pocket and shoot video of what he sees unrelated to any case - the daughter of a neighbor (Yufei Li) claims he got his cat this way. He ignores her and most everyone else, from Julie (Agnes Lampkin), the old classmate at the funeral home where his father will be cremated, to his next-door neighbor Vera (Tilde von Overbeck). One day, he falls asleep on the bus and awakens in the garage, his camera and several tapes stolen. When the thief calls, she says that he is now the one being watched and they're going to try "phone-walking", an unusual therapeutic technique involving guided visualization. Oh, and that his cat is dying and needs magnesium supplements.

Aloys could probably use some help, there's little doubt about that. What makes him an unusual case is that he doesn't seem to be introverted so much as absent, with no sense of self at all. He seems to eat nothing but plain white rice and his home and office, to the extent that they betray any sense of individual personality at all, would seem to reflect that of his late father Harald; the decor and equipment seems about a generation out of date (at least). It may just be a quirk of the subtitles, but Aloys never refers to himself in the first-person singular, always saying "we". He's been an extension of his father/employer all of his life, it seems, and in some ways it's like he's trying to create an independent self by stealing little tokens or moments, even if he does initially resist the voice's attempts to mold him, at least until he knows who he is dealing with.

That second half, where we see an individual Aloys starting to emerge, is intriguing itself. Where Nölle had previously contrasted the run-down reality of Aloys's everyday world to a lush, verdant forest, the latter parts of the movie twist things so that Aloys in in control of an imagined new life and self while what has become a sort of partner is the one in blandly realistic spaces. It becomes an interesting, fair question to ask if that drab and institutional situation may be more effective than what Aloys is doing, even if that is getting some obvious results.

Capturing Aloys as the film goes on falls to Georg Friedrich, and while portraying someone who is initiall a blank may seem like a matter of doing extremely little, he manages to make the man an intriguing mix of frightened curiosity about the world despite an inability to interface with it. It's not exactly appealing - Friedrich seldom indulges in wide-eyed wonder and erupts in petulant anger when what he has is threatened. There is something child-like to Aloys, but Friedrich makes sure that while he's not the sort of walking temper-tantrum that middle-aged man-children are often portrayed as being, but he does skew more toward the difficult side of people who haven't fully developed than the charming, and Friedrich shows how the character's progress is fearful and uncertain.

It's spoiling the early mystery elements a bit to actually talk about one supporting actress over another, so if that's a concern, skip down. For the rest, it's certainly well worth praising Tilde von Overbeck, who portrays a woman of extreme fragility through much of the film without ever getting to explain what makes her tick so erratically, and often just being alone with a phone. Despite that, she's able to give Vera a certain amount of strength and authority when dealing with Aloys, as well as capturing the odd vibe of a fantasy version of the character. It's also interesting to see how Nölle presents her environment compared to Aloys's; where his apartment is blank and utilitarian, hers is dark and overgrown. Something's been eating at her a while.

I must admit, I didn't think much of the last few minutes, which are the sort that insist on reassessment without the time to examine what Nölle shows. The strength of this movie is in the details and watching them play out, and it's a heck of a strength throughout.

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originally posted: 07/28/16 02:16:32
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 Berlin Film Festival For more in the 2016 Berlin Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 Fantastic Fest For more in the 2016 Fantastic Fest series, click here.

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