Roula Sievers Anica Dobra Leon Bachstein Martin Umbach Sievers Ernst Jacobi Tanja Bachstein Tina Hamperi Lisa Irene Hagensby
There’s much to admire in “Roula,” a disquieting tale of incest that marks the feature debut of director Martin Enlen. In the end, however, his ambition runs far ahead of his skill. the picture zigs when it should zag and has a flat narrative quality better suited to the small screen. Beyond fest screenings, the prospect of even specialized theatrical playoff is remote.
Enlen, who also co-wrote, is slow to reveal the real intent of the picture. Setup finds Leon Bachstein (Martin Umbach), a writer of children’s books, and his 12-year-old daughter, Tanja, arriving at a summer vacation spot in Denmark. The beach-house area is run by Sievers (Ernst Jacobi), a German emigre, and his twentysomething daughter, Roula (Anica Dobra).
Film initially appears to be a standard romance in which the attraction between Roula and Leon evolves with the complicity of Tanja. The writer lost his wife two years earlier in a motorcycle accident and hasn’t subsequently been able to write or reach out emotionally.
Mindful that the film is called “Roula” and not “Leon,” the emphasis slowly shifts to the woman’s tale. She’s haunted by memories of her youth, including suicide deaths of both a friend and her mother. These events link up to the creepy, incestuous relationship with her father and his fixation with young girls.
More psychological thriller than drama, the film suffers by adopting a kind of textbook development of perversion. It’s familiar TV plotting in which every action is identified with a precedent flashback. The structure both slows the action and telegraphs what is to come.
While one remains several steps ahead of what’s onscreen, Enlen maintains interest through his performers and dazzling location set pieces. The savage beauty of the Danish coast is an arresting backdrop to his Hitchcockian tale.
Umbach imbues his character with a quiet intelligence that’s riveting and subtle in an otherwise obvious landscape. Equally compelling is Jacobi, the villain of the piece, who exudes outward charm in sharp contrast to the more heinous characteristics he reveals in the privacy of his home. Unfortunately, in the title character, Dobra effects too many quirks and tics to convey her seething neurosis. Eventually she reverts to an extreme childlike nature.
While “Roula” is eventually undone by good intentions and clingy sincerity, its best moments echo after fadeout. Enlen emerges as a talent to watch, in search of the right story to tell.