Germany Portugal (100 mi) 2016 d: Jonas Rothlaender Official site
A film about privileged white male anxiety (personified by the rise and fall of U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump), as if the world is not already screwed up from the effects of it, that is something of an epic disaster. While it’s reasonably well-directed, capturing the haunting beauty of two German exiles living in Lisbon, shot by Alexander Haßkerl, the story, co-written by Sebastian Bleyl and the director, really runs off the rails, growing exceedingly more obnoxiously offensive, combining extreme insecurity with stalker behavior, where little of it ever rings true, as it feels more like a writing exercise, continually planting the protagonist in ever more preposterous situations, where by the end it feels like it will never end. The director Jonas Rothlaender recently graduated from the German Film and Television Academy in Berlin, where this film, his first feature, is his graduation film, and in many ways it feels like it. Opening with a giant ocean wave, followed by a few short breaths, a young doctor, Fabian (Golo Euler), appears to suffer from panic attacks. Either that or acute fears. Though when pressed into action at a hospital in Berlin to save a young woman’s life who has suffered severe cranial damage, he handles himself admirably, even though he loses the patient. Afterwards, alone with the corpse, he pulls the sheet back to get a better look at her face. Within the first few minutes, we’re already getting creepy thoughts about this guy. Next thing you know he’s sleeping in a car, where you start to wonder about his financial situation, though we soon discover he’s following a girl, Doro (Luise Heyer), though she’s with someone else, seen later stalking her down the street late at night, where he identifies himself. Turning around, she looks stunned, asking what he wants, which leads to the title sequence. Without ever delving into a back history, we learn they split up recently, but he’s quit his job as a doctor in Germany and followed her to Lisbon to try to win her back, though she seems content with a new guy, Francisco (Albano Jerónimo), where the two work together as architects.
Strange as it seems, Doro seems willing to give him another chance, though there is obviously something lacking between them, soon identified as trust. Fabian has extreme jealousy issues, where he assumes she’s sleeping with the other guy, even wakes in a delirious sweat dreaming about it, where it becomes a huge elephant in the room, as he’s constantly consumed by these thoughts. Try as he may to repress them, they spurt out from time to time, creating completely inappropriate moments, with Doro leaving the room embarrassed and in shock, reminded that he hasn’t learned a thing since they broke up. Yet somehow, he apologizes, and she takes him back, not knowing what the audience knows, as we see him stalking her throughout the city to spy on who she’s with, even going through her purse, checking the photos on her cellphone, as she continues to socialize with Francisco and his friends after work, trying to find some reality that fits his twisted delusions. They never have any lengthy discussions or deep thoughts, sharing casual sex, which are not among the better scenes of the film, as the director strangely synchronizes their moans and sexual noises, as if they happen mathematically. Again, it simply doesn’t ring true. Infatuated with the idea that things might be getting better, Doro and Fabian take a trip up the coast in a seemingly idyllic environment, where things go well, until he has to bring up Francisco again, asking if she’s sleeping with him. Annoyed that she’s already answered that same question repeatedly, it doesn’t stop him from pestering her all over again, where his fears and anxieties come back to haunt him, and he has the gall to blame her for his own feelings of inadequacy, as if she’s expected to answer each and every one of his trivialities, where the guy is a walking time bomb.
The extent of his delusions only grow more ominously, to the point where he can’t distinguish between fantasy and reality, as he starts to have meticulously detailed nightmares believing they are all laughing at him behind his back. In this way, the film resembles the humiliation nightmares in Bergman’s THE HOUR OF THE WOLF (1967), though Bergman’s visionary horrors are magnificent to see, while Fabian is a fairly milk toast guy by comparison, as he expresses very little actual personality and is rarely ever seen happy or having fun. Instead he seems threatened by intimacy, where the closer someone comes to him, he must immediately lash out at them to push them away, then profess complete innocence, as if he had nothing to do with it. It’s a sick little game, and Doro eventually refuses to put up with it any longer, calling the whole thing off, dropping him flat. Like a dog with his tail between his legs, he begs forgiveness, staring at her with those wounded eyes, but after a hug, walks away. But it’s not over, much as we wish it would be, as the stalking continues. The film wears out its welcome, as it prolongs the inevitable well past the breaking point, as the audience loses interest in this guy, as he remains stuck in one-dimensional territory, where we’ve seen through his nice guy veneer, as throughout it all, he really doesn’t care about anybody but himself. So he’s not a sympathetic figure. He’s a serial stalker, so he’s used to violating other people’s space and privacy, where he doesn’t think twice, but persists until he gets what he wants. As his life falls apart, he meets another exiled woman from Finland, Anita (Pirjo Lonka), who has the best line in the film, claiming what she loves about Lisbon is that it always matches her mood. When she’s happy, it looks bright and jubilant, yet when she’s sad, the city shares her melancholy, where the film title is presumably named after the early 19th century mournful Portuguese songs called fado, which suggest a sad longing or resignation about one’s fate, and can be heard early on in the streets of Lisbon. Following Fabian the entire journey, mostly in close-up, looming larger than life, the film loses its embrace of reality and resorts to theatrics and hyperbole, symbolic of a full-blown nightmare, where as far as he’s concerned, it may as well be the end of the world drawing near, because it’s not about anyone else, it’s all about him.