Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The forthcoming release of Ethan Hawke’s Seymour: An Introduction—and the recent release of the excellent Approaching The Elephant—has us thinking back on other movies about teaching.
The Forest For The Trees (2003)
In a fraught moment in the German director Maren Ade’s Everyone Else, Gitti (Birgit Minichmayr), fed up with her dinner-party guests and furious at her boyfriend (Lars Eidinger) for his inconsiderate behavior—he’s just launched her into a pool, soiling her new dress—pulls a kitchen knife on a pregnant woman and orders her to go home. A seesawing, unpredictable relationship drama, Everyone Else produces an incalculable range of emotions, but it’s this kind of grueling, painful-to-watch social gracelessness that’s magnified in Ade’s debut feature, The Forest For The Trees. But where Gitti’s awkwardness can double as a hostile form of strength—indeed, as Ade recounted to Cinema Scope’s Mark Peranson, the audience at the movie’s Berlinale premiere “clapped when she pulled out the knife”—the heroine of The Forest For The Trees radiates awkwardness in her meekness, her over-politeness, and her stultifying lack of self-esteem.
Forest begins at the precise juncture at which the life of 27-year-old Melanie Pröschle (Eva Löbau) is upended. She leaves her boyfriend of eight years—the two share a mature, muted farewell in the opening scene—and moves to Karlsruhe, where she has accepted a new teaching job at the Bose School. Eager to establish herself in her new surroundings, she sets to work furnishing her apartment (potted plants are a priority), meeting the people in her building (she delivers a friendly helping of “homemade schnapps” to each one), and pursuing, with far too much ardor, a friendship with Tina (Daniela Holtz), her more sociable, across-the-street neighbor. (There’s a touch of Rear Window in the way a new pair of binoculars activates Melanie’s voyeuristic instincts, leading to near-constant peering through Tina’s windows.)
While Everyone Else aligns itself with a certain tradition of vintage European cinema—talk-heavy films in which couples feud and the landscape/setting often reflects, comments on, and engages with that very feuding (Antonioni, Rohmer, Voyage To Italy)—the shot-on-video Forest is far more contemporary in its sensibility. Drawing on his experience in documentary, DP Nikolai Von Graevenitz develops a handheld aesthetic that brings out the cringe-comedy aspect of this material; the camera’s intent, concentrated gaze gradually achieves a biology-lab rigor.
Compared to Everyone Else, much of the short, compact Forest appears one-note and perhaps even cruel, with each scene presenting yet another acute illustration of Melanie’s grating interactions (e.g., a student hurling a chocolate-milk carton at her back). But Ade saves her grandest gesture for Forest’s conclusion—a thoroughly moving, out-of-thin-air departure that exchanges the preceding brand of DV-rough realism for an entirely new, fantastical realm of subjectivity. This fleeting ending—both tender and troubling—exemplifies the daring conviction that led the critic Kent Jones to make the following claim: “[If] I had to point to one young filmmaker in the world whose future seems to me the brightest, it would be Maren.”
Availability: The Forest For The Trees is available on DVD from Amazon or your local video store/library. It’s also currently streaming on Netflix.