Angst for all and solutions for some are offered in the brooding but compelling German crisscrosser “Disenchantments.” Set in and around a Potsdam university, this heady contemplation of fate and coincidence reps an auspicious feature bow for film student Andreas Pieper, blessed with a strong cast of mostly unknown thesps and excellent black-and-white lensing. Pic premiered at Munich’s summer fest, but post-Pusan, should prepare its passport for other fest circuit slots. Commercial prospects are strictly Euro arthouse.
Film roughly divides into four quarters, but takes care to briefly establish the four key protagonists at the outset. In between episodes, Pieper’s script takes a meandering loop through the other characters’ lives before plunging more fully into the next protag’s story.
Angry, rebellious Yugoslavian refugee Aleks (Aleksander Tesla, electric) is the first to come to the fore. Engaged in a university-funded role-playing exercise to research the emotional effects of war zones, Aleks has no time for academic niceties. Participating strictly for the money, he plays his role to the hilt and takes no prisoners while dishing out his anti-Muslim views to attractive colleague Maria (Dorka Gryllus), who is cast as a Muslim bureaucrat.
So powerful and uncomfortable is Tesla’s performance that it’s a relief when his narrative intersects with and is overtaken by the strand featuring German-language teacher Anna (tube thesp Lavinia Wilson, sublime). Pressured by her b.f. to move in with him and have children, Anna instead has an affair with an American student.
Third strand features the “Blow-Up”-like obsession of botanical scientist Sarah (an unsettling Anna Brueggemann, doing a lot with a little). While conducting a random telephone interview, Sarah hears what sounds like a gunshot and turns stalker to prove a link with a local unsolved murder. Before the pic heads for its “build a bridge and get over it” finale, the final quadrant focuses on ambitious career academic Bastian (Matthias Walter, effective), whose life is disrupted by his father’s terminal illness.
With the exception of Aleks’ historically charged experiences, each character’s scenario borders on the mundane. What makes the pic distinctive is Pieper’s confidence with his material; in the most unfocused of narrative forms, the helmer and his superlative thesps are able to immediately strike a gripping mood and elevate the material to a compelling level.
Perfs are uniformly strong, with Tesla’s fireworks and Wilson’s perfect understatement providing the emotional authority the narrative needs. Pic’s soft final reel is its weakest, but Pieper ensures the mood doesn’t dissipate entirely.
Monochromatic Super 16mm lensing (blown up to a crisp 35mm), displaying a full range of eloquent grays, complements the director’s ability to set and sustain atmosphere. Other tech credits are likewise pro.