A mesmerizing, utterly committed performance by Henriette Heinze as a young woman swept away by an amour fou makes “Breaking the Surface” a breath of fresh air. Despite a third act that, much like its heroine, starts to lose focus, this notable debut by Munich-trained writer-director Felicitas Korn carries an erotic and emotional charge that doesn’t rely on visual or verbal histrionics for its protag’s confusion. Highly accessible pic could have limited legs theatrically in Europe — and certainly TV sales — and deserves further festival exposure.
Heinze, born in East Germany, first came to attention as one of a pair of antisocial youngsters in Andreas Kleinert’s “Paths in the Night” (1999). Since then, she’s mostly been in TV roles, which is the bigscreen’s loss. Now in her mid-30s, she plays much younger here with total believability.
First seen bopping her brains out in her favorite disco and later relieving her sexual tension in the shower, Nadja (Heinze) is a wannabe photographer who’s just landed a spread in a trendy magazine. She’s determined to make it in the professional world, but she also has a high sex drive to take care of. After bumping into boyish, long-haired Darius (Golo Euler) at the disco one night, she invites him up for some action.
It’s a role that could easily have been overplayed, or cast with a more glamorous actress. But Heinze, who’s more pretty than beautiful, with an elfin face that can spin on a dime from happiness to sadness to determination, underplays the part — helped by Korn’s reliance on facial expressions rather than reams of dialogue.
When she casually invites Darius to sleep with her, and he gently turns her down, Nadja hardly shows any disappointment. But when he later sends her a CD of his music, with a note to call him, her joy is beguiling.
The two immediately become a couple, their scenes a hot mixture of realistic sex and poetic tenderness. Initially, things go well on all fronts. But small fissures start to appear, and when Nadja gets pregnant, their age difference — she’s 26, he’s only 20 — starts to worry her. Nadja’s mom (Sabine Bach) recommends an abortion, and Nadja finally agrees.
Though the storyline is hardly original, pic’s strength lies in not spelling everything out: There are no big, emotional set pieces, and things cool off in a very natural, unspoken way, largely shown through the pair’s ever-less-tender lovemaking. Dramatic weakness, most apparent in the third act, is that the characters lack any real development or self-wisdom.
Pic is utterly Heinze’s show, with Euler (whose character is never backgrounded) suitably charming as the object of Nadja’s crazy love and Bach communicating a lot between the lines in her few scenes.
Blowup from Super 16 to 35mm is fine, and the whole technical package is smooth without being showy. Pic is also known as “Amour Fou,” though “Breaking the Surface” (translating the original German) was the title on the print caught.