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BERLINALE 2023 Generation

Review: When Will It Be Again Like It Never Was Before


- BERLINALE 2023: Sonja Heiss's Generation 14plus opener is a big and complex film bearing the right message, resolutely refusing to underestimate the capacities of young audiences

Review: When Will It Be Again Like It Never Was Before
Arsseni Bultmann and Pola Geiger in When Will It Be Again Like It Never Was Before

German director Sonja Heiss's third feature, When Will It Be Again Like It Never Was Before [+see also:
interview: Sonja Heiss
film profile
, is a remarkable opener for this year's Berlinale Generation 14plus section. Based on the autobiographical bestseller by Joachim Meyerhoff, and produced by high-profile German company Komplizen Film and the local branch of Warner Bros, it is a decidedly big and complex film that could do some serious business in German-speaking territories and, given the proper attention, internationally as well.

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Co-scripted by Heiss and Lars Hubrich, it starts in 1974, when seven-year-old Josse (Camille Loup Moltzen) arrives at the Hesterberg Psychiatric Hospital in Schleswig-Holstein, where his father Richard (Devid Streisow) is starting his directorial tenure. The young boy appears to be what people would, back then, have called hyperactive, whereas today, he would probably be diagnosed as having ADHD. However, it is a crucial part of the film's message to avoid proclaiming any such labels (the patients at the hospital are played by neurodivergent non-professionals). We only see that the kid has difficulties learning and fitting in, while his two slightly older brothers Patrick and Phillip, as we would expect, cruelly tease him. Their mum, Iris (Laura Tonke), is doing her best but often escapes into her memories of Italy, which she clumsily tries to paint, to hilarious effect. Soon enough, we realise that Richard is cheating on her, and our hero senses it but has no capacity to understand it yet.

This first segment is the most chaotic one and, edited rapidly by Julia Karg, introduces us to the family and the boy through a series of situations in which we are not sure whether the filmmakers are being serious or whether they’re joking, or if some of the jokes fall flat or are lost to cultural specificities. The approach fits how Josse perceives the world, coupled with bright and vibrant images courtesy of DoP Manuel Dacosse.

The childhood part ends with the prime minister paying a visit to the hospital, which itself ends hilariously in an unexpectedly dark tone. This is one of the film's strongest suits: it does not pamper young audiences to “protect” them; rather, it aims to show life in all its complexity and openly discards the false dichotomy of “normal” and “not normal”. Josse's love interest, for example, is Marlene, who is clinically depressed, and he stays enamoured with her throughout his childhood and teenage years.

Which is where we find him in 1983, now played with a full heart by Arsseni Bultmann. He is feeling more comfortable in the world, starting to better understand his parents’ relationship and getting closer to Phillip (Casper von Bülow). The tone accordingly becomes more sober, the proceedings are shown in longer set pieces, and the humour is deeper and darker. The second part ends on a rather bitter note before we move on to the early 1990s for the film’s final 20-minute stretch, which completes the character arcs and sends a message about love in the family despite inevitable flaws and mistakes.

The technical credits are excellent all around, and the acting, especially Streisow's and Tonke's, makes these complexities convincing and natural, despite the picture's sometimes unclear tone. Atmospherically, it moves in big amplitudes, but the baseline of the mood is rather high, supported by several famous pop songs, including The The's “This Is the Day” and T-Rex's “Cosmic Dancer”, which emotionally bookend the film.

When Will It Be Again Like It Never Was Before is a co-production by Germany's Komplizen Film and Warner Bros Pictures.

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