A melancholic girl dabbles in post-modern life and love across 15 vignettes
Dir/scr: Susanne Heinrich. Germany. 2019. 80mins
With a bubblegum colour palette and a soundtrack of sleazy big band jazz, this series of 15 archly deadpan vignettes about a melancholy girl negotiating life, love and post-modern society is truly a one off. The feature debut from novelist and musician Susanne Heinrich, Aren’t You Happy? is so meta is hurts, an ironically ironic commentary on feminism, consumerism, art and sex. But the dry humour and kittenish kitsch of the film’s aesthetic belies just how savage is its wit. It won’t be for everyone - but then that’s presumably the point of a film which pairs intellectual provocation with sparkly unicorns.
Melancholy is a recurring theme, and yet this picture leaves an overriding sense of joy and mischief
The originality of this episodic camp-punk odyssey will be a key attraction for festival audiences. However, it may also present a marketing challenge. A film which has an anarchic kinship with early, puckish Godard; a flat performance style which has something in common with the films of Yorgos Lanthimos and a look which is like Margot Tenenbaum styled by Pierre et Gilles is never going to be easy to pigeonhole. That said, the film should find supporters, most likely among younger, female audiences.
“I hate melancholy girls. All melancholy girls do.” So goes our introduction to the nameless girl (Marie Rathscheck) whose search for meaning and a bed for the night is the focus of the film. Smoking a cigarette and wearing a fake fur coat, an attitude of exquisite ennui and nothing else, she monologues on her natural state of despondency, speculating on the role of the melancholy girl, “if this were a film.” The sad girl in a movie, we are told, would wander around, talk, have sex, and do nothing much else. And over the course of the 14 subsequent episodes, of varying degrees of absurdity, that’s exactly what happens.
The girl, a writer who can’t get past the first sentence of the second chapter of her novel, finds herself temporarily without a home. Her serial encounters with men are as much to do with securing a bed for the night as they are with sex. And when sex happens, it’s executed with the same wry impassive flatness with which the dialogue is delivered.
Over the course of the film, the girl is urged to have a baby to cure her narcissism; rides a unicorn into a nightclub; talks her therapist into telling her she might as well not bother coming any more. One episode plays out as a rotoscoped music video, one is a languid piece of choreography saturated in hot pink and electric blue. She waits for the fall of capitalism in a drag club, hooks up with a carpenter, a philosopher and a DJ who samples the sound of his sexual conquests and turns them into music. Melancholy is a recurring theme, and yet this picture, with its playful sound design and uninhibited embrace of camp imagery, leaves an overriding sense of joy and mischief.
Production company: Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin, Essential Filmproduktion
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Producers: Jana Kreissl, Philippe Bober
Production design: Jeanne Louet, Miren Oller, Nora Willy
Editing: Susanne Heinrich, Benjamin Mirguet
Cinematography: Agnesh Pakozdi
Music: Moritz Sembritzki, Mathias Bloech, Malte Schiller
Main cast: Marie Rathscheck, Nicolo Pasetti, Monika Wiedemer, Yann Grouhel, Nicolai Borger, Pero Radicic