The unexpected lays under Cracks in the Shell
by Vladan Petkovic
05/07/2011 - German writer-director Christian Schwochow’s Cracks in the Shell [trailer] had its world premiere in competition at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Although uneven and sometimes over the top, this psychological drama is dynamic and highly intense, with a captivating performance by the lead actress, Danish-born Stine Fischer Christensen (After the Wedding, Echo).
Josefine (Christensen) is a young actress who lives with her mother and mentally disabled younger sister. Although deemed talentless (“invisible”, as her acting coach describes her, which is also the original title of the film, Die Unsichtbare) within her troupe, she is chosen by renowned director Kaspar Friedmann (Ulrich Noethen, best known as Heinrich Himmler in Downfall [trailer, film focus]) to play the title role in his staging of Alexandre Dumas’ Camille. But Josefine is a virgin, which definitely doesn’t fit with the character. Friedmann’s strong belief in method acting will lead her to explore her sexuality and her family relations, and to deeply question and challenge herself, getting immersed in the role to the level where Camille seriously threatens Josefine’s mental health.
Josefine is emotionally damaged and vulnerable, and Schwochow uses the camerawork (by Frank Lamm) to accentuate her state of mind. It’s often hand-held, and zooms in almost unnaturally fast in a documentary-like style, to her face, hands and other details. This, along with Josefine’s mentally disabled sister, and her own excesses (for instance, rebelliously shovelling food into her mouth until it starts falling out) which intensify as her breakdown progresses, is irresistibly reminiscent of Lars von Trier’s Idiots. Another film that comes to mind, in the sense of subject matter of exploring and discovering the dark side of one’s personality, is Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan.
Christensen’s devastating performance carries the film, and Noethen does a fine, if sometimes unavoidably stereotypical, job as the dictatorial theatre director who is rumoured to have slept with all his leading ladies, discarding them after the premieres. Together, they crack Josefine’s shell, but what is found beneath is nothing any of them expected.
Cracks in the Shell was produced by teamWorx Television & Film GmbH, which also handles international rights.