Dir: Nicolette Krebitz
I know what you’re thinking… finally, he’s reviewing the obscure, surreal, German film, that’s what I’ve been waiting for. Okay, perhaps not, but stick with me because The Heart is a Dark Forest is an unexpected treat.
I’ve been seeing a lot of German films lately. There seems to be a pool of talent there that has been producing some of Europe’s most distinctive, and best cinema for a few years now. In that time I’ve seen Nina Hoss in a couple of pretty bad movies. Atomised and Yella, both of which I came away from thinking ‘ I wish that movie were better, because that actress is incredible’. Since then I’ve been on the lookout for any of Hoss’ films screening near me, and I bought a ticket for this one on the strength of her presence alone. It’s a joy to report that this fantastic actress has finally found a film worthy of her estimable talents.
The Heart is a Dark Forest tells the story of Marie (Hoss) who discovers one day that her husband (Streisow) has another wife (Petri) and child across town. Over the following 24 hours her life collapses in on itself. On this rather threadbare story director Nicolette Krebitz hangs some extraordinary, and artfully composed imagery, and draws from her leads a pair of performances that dwarf anything else I’ve seen this year.
Nina Hoss is, as I’ve come to expect, astonishing. She makes Marie come to life in an utterly compelling way and, aside from her distinctive angular beauty, there is nothing in this performance that betrays the actress behind it, or repeats anything I’ve seen her do previously. Watching her gradually unravel is wrenching, because it’s utterly believable and as both the character and the film drift ever further from reality Hoss keeps her performance totally grounded. It’s an extraordinary piece of work, one that puts to shame the performances that usually win awards, I’ll be surprised if I see anything better this year. This shouldn’t, however, take away from either Devid Streisow or Franziska Petri. Streisow and Hoss were together in Yella, and there’s a clear comfort between them that makes their relationship play in the film’s early scenes, making it ever more devastating as we discover the depths of Streisow’s betrayal. Petri only has a small role, just two brief scenes, but she makes a real impact with the surreal friendliness with which her character greets Marie both times they meet.
Nicolette Krebitz is in total control of her film, a former model she has clearly picked up a feel for the camera, because every image in The Heart is a Dark Forest is both beautiful and fascinating. Her writing is also impressive, be it the way the script delves into its main character’s psyche, the creation of a credible relationship, and its breakdown, or the uncompromising darkness of the film’s ending, this is a consistently startling, riveting and impressive piece of work. The film also boasts an outstanding soundtrack, courtesy of Fetisch and The Whitest Boy Alive, whose combinations of dance beats and classical instrumentation add to the odd, doomy atmosphere that builds up during the second half of the film, particularly at a masked party somewhat reminiscent of Eyes Wide Shut.
But what will really linger in your mind is the ending. I’ll give no specifics, other than to say that Krebitz initially sent the script out with a fake ending, to make it more saleable, and that the way it does end is incredibly brave, emotionally shattering and monumentally shocking. It’s a rare film, these days, that remains an hour in your head, but The Heart is a Dark Forest continues to rattle around mine. This is a great film, the first great film of 2009, and if you get a chance to see it I thoroughly and unreservedly recommend that you do so.