Review: Fabian – Going to the Dogs
by Ola Salwa
- BERLINALE 2021: Set during the decline of the Weimar Republic, Dominik Graf’s film fails to be relevant or engaging, despite Tom Schilling and Saskia Rosendahl’s best efforts
Fabian – Going to the Dogs [+see also:
interview: Albrecht Schuch
film profile], which was in the running for this year’s Golden Bear in the Berlinale’s Competition, is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Erich Kästner. It was published 90 years ago and was known for applying cinematic techniques, such as rapid cuts, to the writing style. The same tricks are used in Dominik Graf’s film, but instead of being radical, they make a rather odd impression, especially if one doesn’t know what inspired them in the first place. The sudden camera shifts and cuts, the visual style that swings from contemporary to one inspired by a 1930s aesthetic, as well as the addition of archive footage from the times of the Weimar Republic, creates additional chaos and distracts the audience from connecting with the main characters. Said characters are aspiring writer Fabian (Tom Schilling), his pal Labude (Albrecht Schuch) and his love interest, international film-law student and actress-in-the-making Cornelia (Saskia Rosendahl).
Each of them is trying to make it in a Berlin tormented by the ghosts of World War I, recession and the rise of National Socialism. Visiting universities, brothels, bars, restaurants, diners, cheap, rented rooms and expensive houses, they make the city into their very own labyrinth, which sometimes serves to make them even more lost, while at other times they just want to run off to a place where they belong.
It could have been a very interesting film, if the cuts and other editing tools had been used more often and more effectively during the writing of the script and while putting the story together. It becomes draining over a period of almost three hours and quite often resembles a badly written TV movie that for some reason has to focus on dialogue, and repeats the same information and events, even if they don’t add anything to the narrative. All of the interesting and relevant themes, such as the resurgence of neo-Nazi groups and the #MeToo movement in the film industry, are buried beneath meaningless dialogue and voice-over monologues.
Fabian – Going to the Dogs is watchable only because of the dedicated performances by Rosendahl and Schilling, who have some great on-screen chemistry and also sparkle in their individual scenes. As usual, the human touch is more entertaining than messing around with form and cuts.
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