Would I have enjoyed the movie if not for the lovely Lavinia Wilson? Would I even have gone out to see it in the first place? It's a good acid test of any movie's inherent qualities, especially of the script. Don't get me wrong. I don't mean to say that a pretty lead isn't a good reason to see a movie. It's as good a reason as any. People do it all the time, and girls too. Entire careers were built on this. Think Rudolph Valentino, Omar Sharif, Richard Gere. Would any couple sit through, say, "The English Patient", if not for Ralph Fiennes (for her) and Juliette Binoche (for him)? Would anybody but the most serious gaming geeks watch "Tomb Raider" minus Angelina Jolie or "Resident Evil" without Milla Jovovich? Hardly. So would I? Probably not. I mean, it's not a bad story. Maria (Lavinia Wilson) is a very troubled girl. She keeps driving the nice guys away and ends up with the one guy who's bad for her. Wolfgang (Richy Müller) takes advantage of her vulnerability, buying her drinks and clothes in return. It's a rotten deal. You walk away from "Allein" without a doubt that life's a bitch.
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Maria is a student at the university of Essen, Germany, living and working in a gray, unpleasant, and anonymous environment. While she has little problem finding someone for a one night stand, she rebuffs her lovers in such a rude way that they actually don't know what's going on. But what seems to be a negative attitude at first glance is in fact much worse: Maria is suffering from borderline syndrome, a serious psychotic disease that makes her fail to develop a continuous, reliable personality, from her own perspective as well as from the perspective of those she meets. Then one day, she bumps into Jan, a student who falls in love with her without delay. He's awaiting a hard time when he has to learn how hard it is to stay loyal and faithful to a person who, in her own words, "has a different world inside of her head" and who feels that "there is something inside of me that eats me up."
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Even cuties get the blues
Probably the most succinct summary of the movie is given by its director Thomas Durchschlag, who also provided the script. When he talked about it at the Max-Ophüls Film Festival here in Germany, he stated that after he was confronted with the subject of the borderline personality disorder, he tried to find out what would motivate somebody to constantly hurt himself; the movie represented his answer to this question.
Paradoxical as this may sound, however, an actual answer is not given in the course of the movie. Instead, what we get is a very intelligent and subtle approach to this problem, hinting at a lot of possible answers, but eventually leaving us to form our own opinion.
The main character is a student called Maria, who suffers from said personality disorder. Quoting the author again, the fascinating fact about borderline patients is that they experience the same feelings of doubt and self-hatred everybody knows at one time or another - the difference being that for them, it just won't go away. Still, to a certain extent, it's very easy to relate to Maria's actions as she searches for a meaning in her life and is unable to find one.
The main device for Maria to escape her feelings is by replacing them with pain, which she inflicts upon herself in so many different ways that it's not easy to even spot them all. Physical pain is the most obvious, e.g. when she cuts herself with a razor blade, but emotional abuse occurs much more frequently: she has various one-night stands with complete strangers, illustrating how her feeling of self-worth is near to nonexistent. There are nights of drinking and clubbing, without meaning nor enjoyment in them. There's the way she acts when someone tries to comfort her, pushing these attempts away without acknowledging that this is a signal of someone caring for her.
But then, there are also happy moments. The main storyline starts to unroll when she meets Jan, a slightly clumsy (but very sweet and caring) student who is studying to be a veterinary. At first, she doesn't want to get involved with him, but eventually gives in and, for the first time in her life, experiences warmth and a healthy relationship. They have a wonderful time during a weekend at the beach, and Maria tries to get a grip on her life by abandoning her old ways. Sadly, but inevitably, she finds out that this is not so easy. Things start slipping, for example when she stops seeing her therapist since, as she claims, "Jan will be looking out for me instead". It gets worse when Jan leaves for one week to visit a scientist camp site in the Netherlands to study chimpanzee behaviour - even with the help of her close friend Sarah, Maria is not able to avoid getting sucked into her old self-destructive patterns again. The movie goes on, but I will not comment on the ending: I don't think I can do it without spoiling most of you. Try and get hold of the movie instead.
In spite of the excellent script (even more impressing when considering that all the director has done before is a couple of short movies),I don't think the movie would have worked without its superb acting, especially from main actress Lavinia Wilson who manages an absolutely convincing portrayal of Maria and her various problems. This is not to say that the other performances aren't good, but this one really stands out. I hope we'll get to see more of her in the future.
So, are there any downsides to this movie at all? As you probably noticed, I didn't really think so, but there are a few things people might object to. First of all, there are a lot of very graphic scenes in the movie, which normally shouldn't be a problem for the target audience, but you never can tell. Secondly, the movie can be quite depressing to watch. Of course, this is subjective, and I don't think it detracts from the quality of the movie in any case, but it might put people off nevertheless. Thirdly, most (that is to say, all) of the actors are not widely known yet, so you have to trust reviews like this one to decide whether seeing the movie is worth your while.
Apart from these concerns, I really can't think of anything else to say against the movie, but speaking of subjective: Since I am from around where the movie was produced, I quite enjoyed the way people talked. If you don't know the speech patterns of Essen or the Ruhr Basin in general, you might not even notice, but for me, listening to these people was a very satisfying experience. Oh well, I just wanted to mention it.
In conclusion, this movie was one of the best I have seen at the festival. I definitely recommend seeing it for yourselves if you get the chance to, you won't regret it.
Walking on the edge
"Allein" is an award-winning big screen release from 2004, so this film will soon have its 15th anniversary already and it is a bit sad that writer and director Thomas Durchschlag did not manage to build a successful cinema career on his early career effort here. But maybe it's happening now as he finally has his second full feature film coming out in 2017 this year. Back to this 1.5-hour film we got here: It is really all about Lavinia Wilson as she is not just breathtakingly gorgeous, but also gives what can be considered her career-defining performance as she plays a young woman with a disorder that keeps wreaking havoc in her life and maybe destroying her biggest and best shot at happiness eventually. I must admit I do not know a whole lot about the illness she is suffering from and don't know anybody who has it, but it felt like an authentic display from both the actress and the writer. But acting and writing are among the film's biggest strengths. It is also a pretty atmospheric watch and I found it easy to care for the main character. There are cast members in here that German film buffs will immediately recognize, even if they don't have a huge deal of screen time. The ending almost felt as if they may come up with a sequel and I think they made a good decision when to let the closing credits roll in. It's no unrealistically happy ending (thank God!),but there is an aura of optimism to it, even if it stays a pretty devastating situation and several conflicts are far from solved. But this is how it should be as a rushed-in feel-good ending would have been cringeworthy and a tasteless insult to those really suffering from the same disorder. So yes Wilson alone is reason enough for you to check out these slightly under 90 minutes. I give "Alone" a thumbs-up.