A young woman embarks on a taboo relationship just after the fall of the Berlin Wall in Emily Atef’s elegant, erotic drama

Someday We'll Tell Each Other Everything

Source: Berlin International Film Festival

‘Someday We’ll Tell Each Other Everything’

Dir. Emily Atef. Germany. 2023. 132mins

In the 1998 comedy The Opposite of Sex, Christine Ricci’s cynical teenage heroine made ironic play on the clichéd movie line, “I never was the same again after that summer.” It’s a phrase that 19-year-old Maria (Marlene Burow) could justifiably use at the end of Emily Atef’s drama Someday We’ll Tell Each Other Everything – only in her case, the resonances would be deadly serious, not just personally, but nationally. Based on the 2011 novel by Daniela Krien, co-adapting the book with Atef, this film is a coming-of-age story both for its heroine and for Germany in 1990, making an uneasy transition from one modern era to another.

Atef’s film approaches the theme of taboo desire with fearless candour

Emotionally and erotically intense, elegantly crafted and superbly acted – not least by rising young talent Burow – the latest film by German-born French-Iranian director Atef follows her 2022 Vicky Krieps starrer More Than Ever, and marks a return to Berlin, where her 3 Days In Quiberon began its successful career in 2018. Atef’s new film, a small-scale drama nevertheless attaining novelistic richness, stands to be her most successful yet, especially given contemporary demand for intelligent stories told from a perspective of female desire.

The setting is the countryside of Thuringia, in the former East Germany, and the time is 1990 during the first summer after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Maria is supposed to be at school, but has decided to stay away during a difficult period: her mother Hannah (Jördis Triebel) is depressed, having lost her job when her workplace shut down as a direct result of Germany’s unification. Maria has moved in with the farming family of her devoted but callow young boyfriend, aspiring photographer Johannes (Cedric Eich), but it’s clear that Maria and her mother are retreating from their every day lives as part of the dazed state of uncertainty that seems to affect the former East at this critical moment.

While enjoying sex with Johannes, Maria withdraws somewhat, immersing herself into Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov – which supplies the quote that is the film’s title. But one rather suspects that she’s also been reading D.H. Lawrence on the side, as she soon finds herself troubled by a brooding neighbour of the family, solitary, Rottweiler-owning farmer Henner (Felix Kramer), said to be a ladies’ man and altogether a bad lot. Yet the 21-year age gap between Maria and her taciturn admirer won’t stop them from embarking on an emotionally stormy, intensely physical liaison. Maria’s capacity for keeping secrets will be tested to the maximum – but then, this is the former East Germany and the now defunct Stasi casts a long shadow, as do traces of the old ideologies, with which Maria was inculcated as a child.

Atef’s film astutely manages to comment on this particular facet in the history of the national psyche without making heavy weather of it, leaving the viewer to make the connections between the characters’ feelings and the state of the world that surrounds them. Some touches are more explicit; the new euphoria of being able to cross a former border to eat strudel and admire fancy hi-fi components, for example.. But these touches are subtly sketched in, while a broader context alludes to a longer period of national turmoil, with Henner marked deeply by family traumas going back to the aftermath of the Second World War.

At a time when mainstream cinema seems increasingly prone to give sexual content a wide berth, Atef’s film approaches the theme of taboo desire with fearless candour – especially since the relationship here is altogether what would be generally considered inappropriate. It’s not just the age difference, but the fact that Henner is unapologetically brutish, and that the roughness is something that Maria is manifestly attracted to. The sex scenes between them are unvarnished in a way that testifies not only to the fearlessness of Burow and Kramer, but to the sensitivity and daring of Atef’s direction, which maintains a firm grip on the primacy of Maria’s experience (credit also goes to intimacy coach Sarah Lee).

Meanwhile, the undercurrent of historical transition runs throughout the drama, whether in the sudden reappearance of Johannes’s uncle, returning from the West and bringing to the fore local resentment about the possibilities that these Eastern country dwellers still can’t experience. Or in Johannes’s plan to document his community in a photo project, knowing that the world he has grown up in is likely to die overnight.

The summer mood, by turns idyllic and ominous, is beautifully caught in Armin Dierolf’s photography, running the scale from idyllic to ominous, intimate to panoramic – from the golden glint on naked skin to magnificent exteriors, sometimes overladen with clouds straight out of 19th century landscape painting. An excellent cast includes Jördis Tiebel (familiar from TV’s Dark and Babylon Berlin) as Maria’s careworn mother, and Felix Kramer (also from Dark, and TV’s Dogs of Berlin) bringing troubled complexity to a character who may ostensibly seem a rough-hewn variant on the Heathcliff/ Rochester archetype that might appeal to a reader like Maria, but who gradually reveals more delicately scarred substrata.

As Maria, Burow shines in a phenomenally demanding role that challenges us to tune in empathetically to a character whose actions and motives are rarely less than problematic, but are always limned with a fine brush. A spare string score by Christoph M. Kaiser and Julius Maas puts the uneasy edge on this very mature, polished piece.

Production company: ROW Pictures

International sales: The Match Factory sales@matchfactory.de

Producer: Karsten Stöter

Screenplay: Emily Atef and Daniela Krien, based on the novel by Daniela Krien

Cinematography: Armin Dierolf

Editing: Anne Fabini

Production design: Beatrice Schultz

Music: Christoph M Kaise, Julias Maas

Main cast: Marlene Burow, Felix Kramer, Cederic Eich, Silke Bodenbender