Friday, 5 February 2016

Atomised (4 Stars)

This is a German film with the original title "Elementarteilchen", which means "Atomic particles". It's based on a novel with the same name written by the French author Michel Houellebecq. Since I had problems understanding the message the film wants to give I read a summary of the book. It seems to me that the novel is a deep philosophical work that talks about modern man caught in the battle between Christianity and science, frustrated because they both claim to give answers but neither succeeds. This element is completely missing from the film. The book's main characters and their lives are portrayed in a vacuum, without the book's underlying message. What remains is a family drama interlaced with black comedy.

Bruno was born in Berlin in the 1950's. His mother went to India to join a commune shortly after his birth, after which his father committed suicide, so he was adopted by his grandmother. His mother visited him once a year but showed no emotion towards him. When he was 18 his mother told him for the first time that she had another son, Michael, aged 17, who had lived with another grandmother in Berlin all this time. The two half-brothers met and became friends, united in their disdain for their mother.

20 years later Bruno and Michael have taken different paths, but they're still close friends. Bruno is married with a young child, but he's obsessed with sex, having a series of one-night stands outside of his marriage. He's chosen a career as a senior school literature teacher because he wants to be surrounded by teenage girls. Michael is still a virgin, and he is working in a research laboratory trying to find a way to reproduce human beings without sex.

Bruno suffers a mental breakdown after a 17-year-old girl in his class rejects him. His wife leaves him, he loses his job, and he spends the next few months in and out of mental institutions. Michael stands by him in his time of crisis. Then both brothers fall in love at the same time. Michael reunites with his childhood sweetheart, Annabelle, who is still single because she has always loved Michael. Bruno meets Christiane, a woman in an esoteric holiday camp who shares his obsession with sex, although they rarely have sex with one another; they prefer to watch one another having sex with other people.

Both relationships go badly. Christiane has advanced cell decay in her spinal cord, which leads to her becoming paralysed from the waist down. Annabelle becomes pregnant from her first sex with Michael, but she had previously been warned that she should never get pregnant. The baby is aborted, but there are further complications that mean her womb has to be removed, and even after this she's so weak that she could die at any time. The two brothers are both left with disabled lovers. It can't get any worse, can it? Actually it can. I've given away most of the plot, but the two brothers and their lovers sink deeper into the abyss.

The film's humour is very morbid. We're invited to laugh at sickness, death and even taboo subjects like incest. I don't mind morbid humour. I can laugh at anything. What disturbs me is that the film is inconsistent. After comedy scenes there are long portions of serious drama. Then, eventually, the jokes are packed into the film one after another. I would have enjoyed the film more if the humour had been spread more evenly.

Nevertheless, the film has its strong points. The film features some of Germany's biggest stars, and they don't let us down, making the madness and the suffering of their characters completely credible. This isn't a masterpiece, in my opinion, but it's worth watching as an example of powerful German cinema.

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