A situation that has recently been played for romantic comedy — a one-night stand’s fertile results force two virtual strangers to build a life together — gets very different treatment in director/co-writer Isabelle Stever’s “Blessed Events.” Needlessly cryptic, this drama plays like a pretentious, stereotypically Teutonic version of “Knocked Up” crossed with “Rosemary’s Baby,” minus the former’s humor and the latter’s supernatural suspense. Teasing narrative elements go undeveloped, character backstories are verboten, psychological insight is near-nil, and at the end of a vaguely ominous road there’s no payoff whatsoever. That ambiguity might intrigue a few fest programmers, but commercial prospects are minimal.
Simone (Annika Kuhl), whose name we don’t learn until the film is nearly over, is introduced as a thirtysomething woman who seems neurotically unhappy in her own skin and in the company of other people. Nonetheless, she bicycles to a discotheque, gets drunk alone, awkwardly dances with a stranger, Hannes (Stefan Rudolf), then winds up having sex with him in his car. Waking the next morning, she slinks away.
But chance brings her into contact again with Hannes at a local clinic; he works as a hospice nurse for the elderly, and she’s just found out she’s with child. He’s delighted to see her again, even more so to hear her news of this unplanned parentage. They fall into coupledom and buy a fixer-upper house in the country, which she spends her days refurbishing.
But Stever and co-scenarist Anke Stelling keep suggesting Simone has serious psychological issues even as they refrain from explaining or exploring them. She reacts with irrational jealous anger toward her partner’s idle chatting-up of a happily married neighbor (Maria Simon), and later exhibits more seriously self-destructive behavior.
Yet Simon’s frequent hostility and evident self-loathing are never probed, robbing Kuhl’s grimly contained performance of any glimmer of viewer understanding. Nor does the likable Rudolf fare better as Hannes: He’s a virtual blank of nice-guy acceptance, sans will or complexity, most notably demonstrated when an apparent old flame (or something) of Simone’s (played by Arno Frisch) repeatedly shows up, once discomfitingly at their house. Wouldn’t a loving spouse, or even a merely suspicious one, at least ask, “So … who is that guy?”
All this might make some sense if told from a viewpoint of extreme postpartum depression. But if anything, “Blessed Events” seems to be about prepartem depression, or some other foggy malady Simone has always been subject to, but which Stever deems it vulgar to do more than hint at. The film’s stylistic and narrative minimalism end up looking like pretentious mannerism, with no disclosure of what lay behind so much unsettled mood and discordant behavior at the shrug-inducing close.
Perfs are fine within their frustrating scripted limits, tech/design package very polished. Bernhard Keller’s widescreen cinematography lends an expansive air to what turns out to be an exasperatingly small, underdeveloped story, played out as if it required all the gravity in the world.