Over 3 long hours we watch the story of love going wrong. A policeman and his wife and their daughter play out the scenes of domestic violence and abuse interspersed with love and happier tender moments. Amongst the scenes we have other chapters (literally the whole film is divided into chapters and we are told when each begins and ends) which might consist of a rabbit running through grass or an Easter egg hunt in the woods. The only other coherent figure is an old man who we see doing the most mundane of things, dressing, eating, walking – we are left to decide for ourselves if he is the policeman in the future or a silent witness or some other mythical watcher.
The writer/director Philip Gröning often seems to just show us something he has found visually interesting. A lot of the compositions of the scenes look like paintings; extreme close ups and odd angles confuse and intrigue the viewer. He also likes to show us mundane things from new angles, again it feels like he is just following whatever he himself thought “ooh that looks nice I’ll put it in”. This makes the film overly long, it is a trial to watch.
Although there is a narrative running through it, with the violence handled very sensitively and in no way gratuitously, it feels secondary to the visual experience of the overall project. There are some beautiful magical scenes; the mother and daughter become like small fairies in a giant bathtub, the characters sing to the camera, but this film feels like it belongs in an art gallery, playing on a loop where people can dip in and out of it how they choose.
Interesting but difficult.