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The Hoffmanns are a forty-odd-year old couple living in Essen. Their two children are students. They live in an apartment that they have been able to buy thanks to the help of Anne Hoffmann's father. Anne is a schoolmistress motivated by her job while her husband Georg is a police officer, calm and efficient, but not particularly interested in the advancement of his career. To put it briefly, they are a couple like millions of others... Until the day when Anne, feeling unconsciously that the family bliss is only on the surface, starts becoming violent. And her victim is no other than Georg... Written by
Rough and sympathetic but not esthetically pleasing.
The main interest of this unconventional film by newcomer Jan Bonny is its seldom examined theme, the marital violence exerted by women! For it is an established fact that husbands can be the victims of their wives, although women are much more likely to be beaten up by men than the other way round. But the rarity of such cases is precisely what makes them interesting to study.
Assuming this to be true, it is not an easy task for a filmmaker to tackle this problem. Showing a woman hitting a man is an uncommon, unsettling show and it takes a lot of restraint and subtleness not to turn such a story into a freak show. And it can be said that Jan Bonny, never indulging in sensationalism, is the man of the situation. Blows rain down in his film but what makes things acceptable (although seeing 'Gegenüber' cannot be called a pleasure cruise) is the writer-director's empathy for his characters. He does not condemn Anne Hoffmann, a primary school teacher, who, without warning, becomes a man beater. He is content to observe her behavior, trying to understand what -consciously or unconsciously - drives her to such extremities. This outburst of violence seems, according to Bonny, to be the product of sustained frustration (a scornful father, lack of recognition in her job, lack of ambition of her husband) rather than gratuitous or perverse. Likewise, he does not present police inspector Georg Hoffmann as a mere victim. Why does the police inspector remain so passive when assaulted by Anne? He is not a coward, quite the opposite as he has managed to save the life of his young partner Michael during a dangerous operation. Is he masochistic or is it because he wants to protect their love? The latter question could contain the answer as, in spite of everything, Georg and Anne remain a loving couple. Both a good and bad news because, as the ending implies, they risk perpetuating these destructive practices until old age - if they ever reach it.
¨Matthias Brandt and Victoria Trautmansdorff are exceptional as Georg and Anne. They give their all to their characters, hard as their work must have been, and make them believable throughout.
My only reservation concerns the cinematography and the camera-work. Why such dirty pictures captured by such a shaky camera? Why such ugly natural settings (the Hoffmanns' apartment looks particularly hideous)? After all, Georg and Anne are middle-class, and even if they are not well off, such sordid realism does not actually fit in. Wouldn't it have been more relevant artistically to show a reasonably beautiful environment gradually deteriorating as the situation worsens?
A worthwhile effort despite this minor flaw though.
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