By Ali Moosavi.
Two films competing for the main prizes at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Both having a person’s name as their title. Lara (Jan Ole Gerster) from Germany and Patrick (Tim Mielants) from Belgium.
Lara opens with a shot of the eponymous character, alone in her bedroom, opening the full-height windows. Is she going to commit suicide by jumping out, à la Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski, 2013)? Whether she wanted to, we don’t know, as she is interrupted by a knock on the door. The police want to search the apartment of a neighbor, whose son they suspect of dealing in drugs, and want Lara to accompany them as a witness. Why her? Because she used to be a civil servant and though she protests that she is retired now, one of the cops says that once a civil servant, always a civil servant!
With that piece of information (Lara is a retired civil servant), we move to the search scene. From the neighbor, we find out that Lara’s son used to live with her, and play the piano, but has moved out. And, one of the policemen examining her ID remarks that it is Lara’s 60th birthday. This technique of gradually supplying information about Lara is used quite skillfully by the Slovenian screenwriter, Blaz Kutin, throughout the film to build for us, step by step, within the timeframe of the film, which is one day, a complete portrayal of Lara.
Lara then withdraws her remaining balance from the bank, goes to a concert hall advertising a classical concert in the evening by Viktor Jenkins, and purchases all the remaining 22 tickets for that evening’s concert. Why? Because Viktor is her son. Why is she having to buy tickets for her son’s concert? Why has he moved out? Why Lara, still a very attractive woman, is living alone? These are the questions that are raised in one’s mind. As Lara goes around to distribute the tickets, Blaz Kutin and director, Jan Ole Gerster take us in this discovery journey by staging a number of conversations. At one end of every conversation is Lara. Those at the other end include her ex-colleagues, one of her neighbors who has a crush on her, her old music teacher, her ex-husband, her mother and her son, Viktor.
Lara comes across as a domineering, perfectionist character, passionate about music. She is also described by various characters as egotistical and insanely ambitious. Though she doesn’t seem to grasp it, these traits have driven away her family and friends and isolated her. The central theme of the film is whether it is worth being stubbornly idealistic and perfectionist, and risk becoming alienated and isolated; or to compromise and conform and keep your friends.
Each shot in the film has been carefully composed by director, Jan Ole Gerster, whose only second feature film this is, after A Coffee in Berlin (2012). Once he has composed the shot, he often leaves the camera at one place and lets us observe the action happening within that frame. It’s a style that is perfectly suited to this film. The whole film though revolves around Lara and Corinna Harfouch is magnificent in the title role. She manages to make us understand, and even empathize with this woman who possesses a wholly unsympathetic personality. Harfouch achieves this mainly through facial expressions as the script provides her with rather limited dialogue. Tom Schilling as Viktor, also manages to convincingly display the sensitivity and vulnerability of his character. Lara belongs to those group of cinematic characters who occupy a more or less permanent place in the mind of the audience, long after the end credits have appeared in this great film.
Patrick is an altogether different kettle of fish. The title character is a young man running a nudist camp in Belgium with his sick father and blind mother. When his father dies, he has to run the camp on his own, as well as taking care of his mother. While all the camp guests are commiserating Patrick on his loss and consoling him, for Patrick his father’s death is not the worst thing to have hit him on that day. The real tragedy is that one of the hammers in his beloved hammer collection has gone missing! We thus follow Patrick in his odyssey to find the missing hammer. Along the way, we meet a number of the oddball inhabitants of the camp. They are mostly middle aged with the accompanying middle age spread. Mr. Universe and Miss World they ain’t! There is the middle aged married lady who, in return for having sex with Patrick, gives him a jar of jam every time! We also meet the self-proclaimed celebrity musician Dustin Apollo and his blonde girl friend, and so on.
Since that particular make of hammer has been discontinued, and the other brands he tries do not come up to his expectations, Patrick feels even more urgency to find his beloved hammer. Did he simply mislay/lose the hammer or is there a sinister conspiracy behind this loss?
The problem with Patrick is that we, the audience, are simply not half as interested as Patrick in finding the hammer. The collection of the oddball characters in the camp are just about interesting enough to maintain our interest till the end, but the payoff does not justify the journey that we’ve taken. Kevin Janssens has been required to give a one-note performance as Patrick, showing him as a simpleton who does not display any emotions over anything, bar his hammer.
Patrick is certainly quite original and unlike most films playing in the multiplexes. But being different and original do not always translate to greatness. Director Tim Mielants comes from TV, having directed episodes of series such as Legion and Peaky Blinders. Patrick is his first feature film. Its selection in the competition section of a prestigious festival like Karlovy Vary, will not harm its chances of finding its audience. The fact that he maintains our interest for 97 minutes over a missing hammer is also an achievement. Patrick is an acquired taste, but who knows, it may even find a cult following.
Ali Moosavi has worked in documentary television and has written for Film Magazine (Iran), Cine-Eye (London), and Film International (Sweden). He contributed to the second volume of the The Directory of World Cinema: Iran (Intellect, 2015).