Dir: Margarethe Von Trotta. Ger. 2006. 104mins.
A faint scent of nostalgia for the past rules over Margarethe Von Trotta's handsomeproduction I Am TheOther Woman, which looks like a psycho-romantic melodrama from the 1950s. Justimagine Three Faces OfEve meets Belle De Jour on theRhine valley, with all the modern paraphernalia that decorates it having noimport whatsoever on the plot itself.
A successful engineer(August Diehl) falls for a hotel prostitute who may also be a high poweredlawyer (Katja Riemann), and the combination driveshim mad. The ensuing on-off romance drips with psychological explorations, darkfamily affairs and upper-middle class conveniences, taking the plot for anoccasional but unexplained tour in Casablanca before it returns home to make allsinners pay for their sins.
Conceived as a vehicle fortwo stars representing two different generations of German cinema, I Am The OtherWoman is wrapped up in colourful landscapes and lavishly designedinteriors, but the muddled script, which banishes all hints of subtlety and resemblesa collection of cliches from old warhorses, will not take it very farcommercially. The names of Von Trotta and her castmay open doors, both at festivals and on certain distribution circuits, but howlong these can stay open is pretty uncertain. TV is perhaps the best it canhope for.
Robert Fabry(Diehl), a brilliant engineer operating out of an office of his own, drivesinto Frankfurt to sign a new contract. As he walks into his hotel, a floozy ina red dress (Riemann) is just about to be kicked out after importuning thecustomers and making indecent advances.
Fabry comes to her help, pretends to know her, calls herAlice and takes her up to his room. After a torrid night, he wakes up to discoverthat she's already gone.
Next day, in his lawyer'soffice, Robert is introduced to the new partner in the firm, a ravishingbusinesswoman by the name of Carolin Winter, who isnone other than Alice, less the make-up and red dress. Confused, he suspects atrick and invites her to dinner. But when Robert tries to have his way with Carolin she resists his advances.
It is enough to excite confuseRobert and drive him to the border of insanity, for if Carolinand Alice (who later in the film is called Carlotta) are the same person, thenhe has evidently found every man's supposed dream woman of ahousewife by day and a whore by night.
Robert unearths Carolin's home address with the help of his fiancee, Britta (Herwagen), to who hetells everything and who wisely realises that they have no chance of a futureuntil he works out what is going on.
He visits Carolin in her hill-perched chalet overlooking the Rhinewine country and there meets her lovely family, including her father Karl(Mueller-Stahl) a monstrous tyrant who sucks the life of all those who surroundhim; her mother (veteran German star Dor), a lush whocan't stay off the bottle; and Miss Schaffer (Auer), a secretary-cum-servantwho obviously has some other duties around the house.
There is also Bruno (Maiser), a silent assistant who, it transpires, has had histongue bitten off and spends his time push around Karl in his wheelchair chair,while throwing menacing grimaces to anyone who dares look at him.
Karl pretends to have firstpriorities on his daughter's affections and Carolin reactsjust like any psychology manual would expect her to. Fabryfalls for the entire unpleasant set-up with the innocence of someone who hasn'tbeen around for the last 50 years and has never read a psychology manual.
From now on, it would beunfair to reveal more of the plot, although experienced audiences will probablyhave no difficulty guessing all the incestuous, perverse hang-ups that suchbasic components are supposed to generate. As for the highly moralistic ending,it would have given great succour to all supporters of the Hays Code.
Given a script that barelytries to explain what's going on and why - except with generalities like'love is egoistic possession' - Von Trotta'sdirection is adequate, particularly for someone who is evidently out of her ownnatural element.
Best known for her politicalcinema, she seems to have accepted the plot at its face value, embarking on achange of pace which ultimately does not seem to fascinate her too much,otherwise she might have clarified more of the pending issues.
Katja Riemann and August Diehl appear to both be equallyconfused by the demands on their parts, while Mueller-Stahl uses his enormousreserves of experience to play a character who doesn'tmake sense but at least allows him to throw his weight around on screen.
Sets have been carefully andflashily attuned to the characters, from the old fashioned opulence of the Winter home to the spectacular lakeside abode of Fabry, Axel Block's photography is inviting enough tosuggest a leisurely holiday by the Rhine.
FFF Filmfernsehfonds Bayern
Pea Forlich based on Marthesheimer'snovel