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BERLIN 2016 Forum

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Baden Baden: An excellent mix of order and chaos


- BERLIN 2016: French director Rachel Lang has world-premiered her impressive and interesting feature debut in the Berlinale's Forum section

Baden Baden: An excellent mix of order and chaos
Salomé Richard in Baden Baden

Baden Baden [+see also:
film profile
by French director Rachel Lang is a very interesting film on multiple levels, but what impresses the most coming from this first-time feature director is how she balances and combines order and chaos, in terms of both subject matter and stylistic approach. The film world-premiered in the Berlinale's Forum.

The movie opens with an audacious four-minute shot of 26-year-old Ana (the strikingly charismatic Salomé Richard in her first feature-film role), seen in profile behind the wheel of a car, talking to a passenger in the back seat, whom we never see. As she arrives at her destination and her boss starts shouting at her, we learn that it is a film set, and she is 45 minutes late delivering the lead actress. She gets back behind the wheel in tears and drives off in the Porsche.

The sports car was rented by the production company, but Ana does not bother to return it, instead driving it home to Strasbourg from the shoot in Belgium. Here we gradually learn what her life consists of. She is staying in her grandmother's apartment while the charming old woman (veteran actress Claude Gensac in a wonderfully playful mode), with whom she has a strong bond, is in hospital, and she decides to replace her bathtub with a shower. It is a challenge she will attempt with Grégoire (Lazare Gousseau), an employee in the store where she goes to buy the shower.

But her hometown also holds her greatest pain: her ex-boyfriend Boris (Olivier Chantreau, from Tout est faux [+see also:
film profile
), a pretentious but successful up-and-coming visual artist. Although his presence is clearly damaging to her, he still represents an irresistible attraction. But this is not the only symptom of her insecurity and lack of direction. She also has sex with a close male friend, and there is a lingering sexual tension with a female friend who comes to visit from abroad.  Grégoire is also interested in her, and another man will come into play as the film draws to a close…

Although there is a strong sexual component to Ana's character that a lot can be read into – not least from the fact that for almost the whole duration of the film, she wears a baggy top and denim shorts, which, coupled with her short hair, make her a perfect tomboy – Lang and Richard have created a character that is intriguing and original on many levels. At certain points, it seems that she is just doing what she wants, while at others we wonder why she is doing things that cause her pain.

Ana's disorientation is supported by a narrative that sometimes flows smoothly through a clear cause-and-effect mechanism, and at other times, some of the actions seem inconsequential. And the world she is inhabiting contrasts her inner chaos with references to order – the straight lines of the architecture around her, and several striking shots of structures such as an empty swimming pool. The recurring bath theme is open to multiple interpretations, beyond the title of the film – crucially, by taking on the task of renovating the bathroom, Ana may be trying to rebuild her life. And these scenes are infused with sophisticated, deadpan physical humour – a rare combination indeed.

This is a refreshing film that confirms the Forum's reputation as the edgiest Berlinale section, in an unexpected way. Lang and Richard show great promise and have found an excellent launchpad at this festival. 

Baden Baden is a co-production by France's ChevalDeuxTrois, and Belgium's Tarantula Belgique and RTBF, and is handled internationally by Jour2Fête

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