Dir:Valeska Grisebach. Germany.2006. 88 mins

Astory of ordinary love in a defiantly non-glamorous mode, Valeska Grisebach's Longing packs a formidable emotional punch, all the moreso for its spare aesthetic and sure-footed restraint. The director's secondfeature, following 2001's acclaimed Be My Star (Mein Stern), thrives on elliptical storytelling andundemonstratively subtle performances from non-professional leads. Its low-keynaturalism may not appeal to all tastes, but Longing is a major find for festivals and an intriguingprospect for specialised sales.

Setin a village in the Berlin area, Longing is a portrait of love, marriage and heartbreak - big themes in a small,mundane milieu. Markus (Mueller) is a welder and volunteer fireman happily marriedto Ella (Welz), who sings in the local choir; the pair, in their 30s, share apassionate, sexually charged attachment. A chance incident Markus's arrivalon the scene of a suicide attempt sets them thinking about love and fate, butapparently has no direct affect on their relationship. But while away on atraining weekend, Markus gets drunk and wakes up the next morning having spentthe night with waitress Rose (Dornbusch). Markus goes back to Ella, and thepair's mutual passion seems undiluted, but he finds he can't keep away fromRose. He's caught between the two women until a sudden event the sort thatgets viewers asking each other, "Did you see what just happened'" changes thecourse of all their lives.

Eventsmove towards a drastic conclusion, as startling in its way as a comparable turnin a Michael Haneke film. But then Grisebach boldly switches mood in the coda,in which a group of local children comment on the story, wrapping up on a notethat's both ambivalent and surprisingly upbeat.

Muchof the film, dealing with domestic life and the routines of work andsocialising from firemen's training to coffee mornings is acutely-observednaturalism in something like a Dardenne brothers vein. Indeed, like theDardennes, Grisebach has the knack of getting under the skins of her characterswithout telling us too much or having them tell us about what they'refeeling. She's one of those directors who can speak volumes about a person'sinterior life just through a close-up of the back of their head. And herattitude to her characters, while scrupulously distanced, always maintains anadmirably non-judgmental respect for their complexities. Bubblegum pop anddisco tunes are used sparingly and smartly, and a large, hungry rabbit makes awinning cameo.

GFP Medienfonds

Peter Rommel

Valeska Grisebach

Bernhard Keller

Bettina Boehler
Valeska Grisebach
Natali Barrey

Beatrice Schultz

Andreas Mueller
Ilka Welz
Annett Dornbursch