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Thursday, May 1, 2014

DVD Review: Brownian Movement

Brownian Movement is a film that really surprised me and got its hooks into me almost straight away. It opens with a still shot of a brightly lit, very neat, sparsely furnished apartment. And then we see Charlotte (Sandra Hüller) looking over the place. When she sits on the bed, a voice off screen tells her the mattress is new. She doesn’t respond. But then she pays the woman, in cash, only speaking finally when asked a direct question, and even then responding with just a single word: “Berlin” (when asked where she was from).

It’s an intriguing opening scene, and I’m pulled in immediately, wondering about this woman who has a certain mystery about her. We see her alone on the bed, and only after we get a sense of her by herself are we shown her family. She reads to her son at night. And then in the daylight we’re introduced to her husband, Max (Dragan Bakema), in a very wide shot. We’re not at all close to them, as she asks him to pick up their son. Then, in great contrast, the film cuts to an extreme close-up of them making love. In fact, we’re so close that at first we can only see her face, with him in shadow. By bringing us close to her in that moment the film gives us a glimpse of what’s important to her, what’s happening in her mind.

It’s only after that that we learn she is a doctor and see her at work. White curtains separate the patients, and she looks in on a man. She enters, then draws the curtain closed behind her, and the camera lingers for a moment on the closed curtain. One thing I love about this film is the way the camera is allowed to remain on an object or a scene. The film is not in a hurry, which is refreshing.

The camera then shows us details of the apartment she’s rented, and we see there is a man there, asleep, next to her, turned away so that we can’t see his face. His face is unimportant. His identity is unimportant, to us as well as to her. It’s a nice, quiet scene as she rolls over toward him. This movie is able to do so much without dialogue, which is another thing that I love about it. It draws us in, almost having us experience these moments rather than telling us about them.

The shots are so well composed. There is a shot where she stands in that apartment, and she is at the right side of the screen. On the left side, slightly back, is the bed, which extends close to the center of the shot. A man enters frame, but actually stands so far to the right side as to be partially out of frame, and his back is to us as he begins to touch her. So while the action is his, the more dominant elements are Charlotte and, of course, the bed. And there is no dialogue.

Charlotte is beautiful and oddly enchanting, even as she approaches these liaisons in a somewhat scholarly way. We do see her in bed again with her husband, showing the great contrast, almost like she is a different person with him. For one thing, she actually speaks to him. “I love you,” she says. And she appears happy, even radiant, which is so different from how she appears in the apartment.

Each scene’s focus is very strong. There is one scene in the apartment where the camera remains on her, while we hear a man come into the room. What we see is her watching him, until he eventually comes into frame. Then in a parent-teacher conference scene, the focus is on Max, giving us the sense that perhaps he suspects something. It’s done with the composition of the shot as well as the actor’s look toward her, but without any dialogue.

The film becomes even more interesting when she unexpectedly runs into one of the men she slept with. She freaks out and even attacks him, and it seems like it’s because she is not in control of the situation. This is not a scene of her own making, and she can’t handle it. And that leads to a change in the film, when her husband learns about her actions, and they enter counseling.

There is something eerily serene about Charlotte, even as she talks to the counselor or takes her husband to the apartment, which gives you the sense that her inner turmoil must be all the worse. Sandra Hüller’s performance is remarkable.

Brownian Movement was written and directed by Nanouk Leopold. The DVD contains no special features. It is scheduled to be released on May 6, 2014 through First Run Features.

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