Agnes, the asymmetry of love affairs
by Camillo De Marco
- Now showing in theatres in Germany with Neue Visionen Filmverleih is the existential drama that Johannes Schmid adapted from the best seller of the same name by Swiss writer Peter Stamm
Now showing in theatres in Germany with Neue Visionen Filmverleih is existential drama Agnes [+see also:
film profile], which cultured theatre and opera director Johannes Schmid, here on his third feature, adapted with Nora Lämmermann from the best seller of the same name by Swiss writer Peter Stamm. A German-Belgian co-production by Phillipe Budweg and Tom Blieninger with Lieblingsfilm and WDR, the film was shown at the Palm Springs IFF in 2016, the Max Ophüls Preis Film Festival (where the protagonist, Odine Johne, was awarded) and the Bolzano Film Festival Bozen, were Cineuropa saw it before it landed in theatres.
Agnes is reminiscent, with due differences of course, of the recent Anomalisa by Charlie Kaufman. It’s a film about love, selfishness and relationships. Relationships of the romantic variety, that aren’t always perfect, which is actually precisely why they have a chance of working in the first place, because they never are. As the protagonist, Agnes, a physics student, explains in one scene, “asymmetry makes life possible: gender differences, time, which passes in just one direction…”
A girl with a pale face, ethereal and almost weightless, Agnes always studies at the library, and shows signs of obsessive compulsive disorder in the way she meticulously lines up her books and pencils. It is in this place, drenched in knowledge, that she meets Walter Richter (Stephan Kampwirth, a TV series regular), a charming writer at least 10 years her senior who’s researching a book on German industry under Wilheim II. After happening to see a young woman die on the street, their first lively discussion centres around death, with Walter adopting a rather cynical approach and Agnes a doggedly spiritual one. Walter reveals a past full of literary ambition, and as she reads a collection of poems that he wrote when he was young, Agnes compares certain verses with famous poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ by American poet Robert Lee Frost: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference”.
It is in this sort of ‘sliding doors’ that the key to the film lies. When their frequent meet-ups turn into a full-blown affair, Agnes asks Walter to write a book about her, on how he sees her, on their story, also making some things up. On the day that she must leave for Brussels for a presentation, he starts to introduce completely fictitious elements into his writing, which follows the troubled couple to the bitter end.
Agnes is a film with a subtle and melancholic atmosphere, the pace of which slows ever so slightly in its second half. It is directed exquisitely with very heavy photography (Michael Bertl) and careful editing (Henk Drees, who mostly works on documentaries). Odine Johne succeeds in giving body and soul to this young woman characterised by great depth and vulnerability, who does her best to express her pain but ultimately fails to communicate with the person she loves, going down the road less travelled by.
(Translated from Italian)