by Marta Bałaga
- Presented in the competition of Karlovy Vary, Jan-Ole Gerster’s second feature explores the ugly side of maternal ambition
Following his successful feature debut, Oh Boy [+see also:
interview: Jan Ole Gerster
film profile], German filmmaker Jan-Ole Gerster comes back to Karlovy Vary (as well as to the New German Cinema section of Filmfest München) with Lara [+see also:
interview: GoCritic! Interview: Jan-Ol…
interview: Jan Ole Gerster
film profile], an official selection film so delightfully frosty that it’s a wonder you don’t see steam coming out of his characters’ mouths as they speak. The movie proves once again that cinema would certainly be much poorer were it not for overbearing parents, pushing their kids to achieve everything they never got to and more, all the while successfully alienating them somewhere between another odious tennis lesson and a piano recital. But although there is a whiff of familiarity to the story of Lara (Corinna Harfouch), who is about to turn 60 on the exact same day as her gifted pianist son Viktor (Tom Schilling) is finally playing a sold-out gig, it’s still rather effective at times.
This is mostly thanks to its leading lady, somewhat similar to Isabelle Huppert in The Piano Teacher, with her trained ear and her attire, all conservative dresses and a mane of red hair. There is no denying what a damn fine performance it is and how subtle, too, comprising nothing more than some smirks and stolen cigarette puffs, making you almost smell the dysfunction.
But Lara is not a monster – oh no, that would make things too easy. She just can’t help herself, and can’t help sneaking in a snide comment mere hours before her son’s career-defining performance (and a perfectly administered one at that, as this is a woman who knows exactly which toes to step on) nor scorning a child she has only just met. “No edge, no ambition. Your poor parents,” goes her tirade, an odd version of Tourette syndrome with hurtful words flowing out almost to her own surprise. But there is more to her actions than just cruelty, as a long time ago, Lara was denied a future she wanted and still resents the ones that have a chance today – even if they happen to be related, the poor bastards.
It’s truly a pleasure trying to read her, as she smiles upon hearing she was universally despised by ex-colleagues or seems desperate as she hands out concert tickets to perfect strangers. She still wants to impress others, even if it’s through his achievements, as the once “insanely ambitious” woman gave up on her life and settled for tormenting his instead. This makes it more than just a film about twisted maternal ambition, but perhaps also a comment on how women are raised to always look up to others, yearning for acceptance or a confirmation that they are indeed worthy of that top spot or all that attention.
Then again, it might not, but that’s where the fun begins, as there is no predicting what Lara might do and why, herself a product of family relations that turn even the simplest of gestures, like bringing over a cake, into a prickly battlefield. Where Krzysztof Zanussi once talked about Life as a Fatal Sexually Transmitted Disease, the same could be said about this merry household, with all the long-buried hurt finding its way to the surface and continuing to afflict the next generation, as Gerster isn’t interested in easy reconciliations. And frankly, neither is Lara.
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