You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Original Bliss’

Martina Gedeck is remarkable as a woman whose spiritual crisis has perverse consequences in Sven Taddicken's fresh, disquieting film.

Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Tukur, Johannes Krisch. (German dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.picturetree-international.com/films/details/original-bliss.html

An elegantly disquieting investigation into the interrelation of faith, violence and sexual degradation, held together by a rivetingly sure-footed performance by German star Martina Gedeck (“The Lives of Others”), recent Munich Film Festival premiere “Original Bliss” might be most impressive for how much it resembles its lead character: calm and orderly on the surface, but roiling with inchoate perversities underneath. There are times in director Sven Taddicken’s film when, were it not for the fixity of Gedeck’s stare, her absolute intensity of purpose, we might mistake the drama for a straightforward tale of a beaten wife’s escape from her abusive partner, and her reclamation of her sense of worth in the arms of another man. But “Original Bliss,” adapted from Scottish author A.L. Kennedy’s 1997 short story collection of the same title, is much more unsettling, and much more original, than that.

With subtle notes of discordance introduced into even the most seemingly banal of exchanges — often just by having Daniela Knapp’s steady and graceful camera hover on Gedeck’s face just a fraction longer than the scene’s ostensible drama requires — the film lures us into an understanding of the colossal desperation that her character, Helene Brindel, conceals beneath a conventional exterior. Opening with a woozy camera move that roots us to her as she turns over and sits up, sleepless, in her marital bed, it establishes insomnia as only the most obvious and recent symptom of her profound psychological and religious crisis.

At some point in the near past, Helene lost her faith: her personal relationship with God, whom for most of her life she “felt in all things.” Her husband (Johannes Krisch), whose breakfast and packed lunch she prepares during those dark insomniac hours before she passes out in front of the flickering TV, seems only moderately concerned for his wife, whose faith he had never understood and never approved of anyway. He is self-involved, perhaps a little pompous in his dealings with her, but feels peripheral to her apparently complacent housewife lifestyle. Until, that is, in the first of several shockingly visceral moments of domestic violence, he slams her hand in a drawer in response to a minor perceived infraction. More horrifying still is Helene’s mute, routine resignation while her bruised and bleeding knuckles are bandaged: this has happened before.

Popular on Variety

In an effort to sort out her insomnia, she lies to her husband and goes to Hamburg to meet popular psychologist Eduard Gluck (Ulrich Tukur). Gluck initially seems like he might be her white knight, but is revealed to have his own uncontrollable compulsions; they embark instead on a relationship that will either be the salvation or the ruin of them both.

A woman’s complicity in her own abuse is a potential narrative minefield recalling that of Paul Verhoeven’s recent Cannes sensation “Elle.” But Taddicken’s film is a different animal: arguably a more sincere attempt to understand the psychology behind such corkscrew logic, rather than mining it for its salacious potential. But it is no less arresting for being a quieter and less ironic take, while Helene’s religiosity adds another dimension of interest. Was her faith, like her marriage, only ever an offshoot of her masochism? Is her masochism Helene’s own original sin? What happens if we derive bliss from the same place that causes us intense pain?

This is an interpretation of the source material (adapted for screen by Taddicken, Stefanie Veith and Hendrik Hölzemann) that could easily trip over itself in the level of complexity it attempts. But Gedeck is truly outstanding at bringing Helene through the story’s convulsions in such a way she feels extraordinarily real, even as she continually surprises us. Tukur is a perfect foil as as the archetypal shrink-who-needs-a-shrink, giving Gluck an edge of puppyish likeability despite his repellent pathology.

Taddicken has said in interviews that his film, in addition to such previous works as “Emma’s Bliss” and “Getting My Brother Laid,” is not preoccupied with the question of whether one is loved, but whether one deserves to be. That said, “Original Bliss” goes far beyond conventional self-help wisdom. As much as there is an element of “learning to love yourself” to the story’s arc, the means by which both Helene and Eduard try to get there are deeply dubious, and the film’s own stance on them laudably inconclusive — though the very slight sense of mischief that creeps in at the end is a welcome note, establishing Taddicken’s compassion for his flawed-and-then-some characters.

This cool, intelligent reluctance to judge people behaving in such deviant and dangerous ways is what so elevates the film and what so unsettles the audience. Rather than being told who to support and who to condemn, we are left on a knife-edge of ambivalence over a different, knottier question: are those who find genuine sublimation in inherently self-destructive behavior to be pitied or — perish the thought — envied?

Film Review: 'Original Bliss'

Reviewed online, Berlin, June 30, 2016. (In Munich Film Festival — New German Cinema; Karlovy Vary Film Festival — competing.) Running time: 101 MIN. (Original title: “Gleißendes glück”)

Production: (Germany) A Wild Bunch (in Germany) release of a Frisbee Films production in co-production with Saarländischer Rundfunk, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Cineplus Filmproduktion, Senator Film in association with Arte, Sky Deutschland. (International sales: Picture Tree International, Berlin). Produced by Alexander Bickenbach, Manuel Bickenbach. Co-producers, Marc Gabizon, David Kehrl, Frank Evers, Helge Neubronner.

Crew: Directed by Sven Taddicken. Screenplay, Taddicken, Stefanie Veith, Hendrik Hölzemann, based on the short story collection by A.L. Kennedy. Camera (color), Daniela Knapp; editor, Andreas Wodraschke; music, Riad Abdel-Nabi, Wouter Verhulst; production designer, Juliane Friedrich; costume designer, Ute Paffendorf; sound, Matthias Haeb.

With: Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Tukur, Johannes Krisch. (German dialogue)

More Film


    Laemmle Theatres Arthouse Chain No Longer Seeking Buyer

    Los Angeles-based arthouse chain Laemmle Theatres has stopped seeking a buyer, four months after putting itself on the sales block amid slow sales. Greg Laemmle, president of the 81-year-old exhibitor, announced the development Thursday. He told Variety that discussions with an unidentified buyer had reached an advanced stage but fell apart and that there has [...]

  • Morgan Freeman Lori McCreary Gary Lucchesi

    Film News Roundup: Morgan Freeman's Revelations Teams With Gary Lucchesi for Production Venture

    In today’s film news roundup, Morgan Freeman, Lori McCreary and Gary Lucchesi are teaming up; Zolee Griggs, Sara Rue and Ed Quinn are cast; and “Clementine” finds a home. JOINT VENTURE Morgan Freeman and Lori McCreary’s Revelations Entertainment is teaming with former Lakeshore Entertainment president Gary Lucchesi for a joint production venture. Popular on Variety [...]

  • 'When Lambs Become Lions' Review: A

    Film Review: 'When Lambs Become Lions'

    “For us, ivory is worthless unless it is on our elephants,” says Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta in a televised statement, shortly before several vast hauls of severed elephant tusks — ornately piled like sacred shrines — is ceremoniously set ablaze. It’s a confiscated collection that, Kenyatta tells his audience, is worth $150 million, literally going [...]

  • Shannon Hoon

    Live Nation Productions Boards Danny Clinch-Helmed Blind Melon Doc 'All I Can Say'

    Live Nation Productions and Double E Entertainment have signed on as executive producers of “All I Can Say,” the documentary film featuring footage shot entirely by the late Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon. The film’s title is taken from the opening lines of Blind Melon’s instantly recognizable 1993 smash, “No Rain.” Culled from Hoon’s archives, the [...]

  • Tom Hanks stars as Mister Rogers

    How Mr. Rogers Influenced the Pacing of 'A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood'

    Fred Rogers was an icon to many. Everyone who met him and knew him says, “He really was like that.” He spoke in a soft voice and he was kind. He believed in doing good to others. He spoke to children in “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” in a soft voice, helping them to process complicated emotions [...]

  • Dowdle Brothers

    The Dowdle Brothers Tackle New 'Friday Night Lights' Movie (EXCLUSIVE)

    John Erick and Drew Dowdle, aka the Dowdle brothers, have boarded Universal Pictures’ reimagining of “Friday Night Lights.” Both will do a polish on the script, with John Erick directing and Drew exec producing. Sources tell Variety that the movie is not a sequel to Universal’s 2004 film starring Billy Bob Thornton, nor is it [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content