The rash request that an irresponsible mother makes of her naïve, hearing-impaired, teenage son forms the loose focus of low-budget indie drama “Adam,” the brief second feature by Iceland-born, Berlin-based writer-helmer Maria Solrun (“Jargo”), who also produces. Too many script holes make this Berlin-set, family-crafted production more of a mood piece than the poignant, provocative tale it might have been. Nevertheless, it succeeds as a showcase for the thesping talents of the helmer’s athletic son (a producer as well), who essays the eponymous lead. Further fest play should follow.
Despite a terrible haircut and even worse dress sense, blonde, blue-eyed Adam (Magnus Mariuson) is a handsome lug who has no trouble scoring dates on Tinder and converting them into the occasional roll in the hay, even though he doesn’t speak aloud to the ladies involved. Rather, he’s a lip-reader who communicates with sign language, various electronic devices and sometimes old-fashioned pencil and paper. Audiences, however, are privy to his articulate, voiceover musings about his relationship with his now-institutionalized mother (Floriane Daniel), a former rock musician who has suffered irreversible brain damage due to alcoholism. Unhappily for the other residents of Adam’s Neukölln apartment building, he frequently plays her caterwauling music loudly; he can’t really hear it, but he can feel the bass line.
It could be that Adam’s mom’s penchant for alcohol and drugs grew from a need to self-medicate; her own mother died after a long institutionalization. But having checked in and out of the loony bin a few too many times, she tries to extract a promise from her son that if she’s ever locked away permanently, he should kill her ASAP.
An exploration of how a disabled young adult could manage financially when the person paying his rent is suddenly out of the picture would seem like a compelling storyline. But Solrun’s film doesn’t really go there. Instead, it obsesses over the mother’s written plea that her son should promise to off her if she loses her independence, a request that Adam takes all too seriously. Sure, the unfair burdens that a parent can place on a child are interesting, too, but here they don’t feel credible. Adam is surviving on instant noodle packages that he orders from the internet. Where does he get the money to finish off mom with an expensive poison? And why isn’t he more concerned when his mother’s social worker (Julia Kratz) tells him that the lease on the apartment has been ended and he’ll have to leave in three months? Although he has always believed that his father (Gabo Hoog) was not interested in him, he learns that his mother actually prevented them from having contact. That’s something that should rock his world and roil his feelings about his mother, but it’s yet another plot element that falls by the wayside.
Shot in summer, the film features intimate, widescreen visuals from DP Joanna Piechotta that are stronger than the narrative. Solrun intercuts the almost documentary-like episodes featuring Adam with glowing sequences from a documentary about underwater Iceland and with footage meant to be of Adam’s mother in her prime (played by Solon’s daughter, Liina Magnea, who, with her partner Haraldur Thrastarson, composed the music). Other textures come from the muffled sound that mirrors Adam’s hearing and the swimming pool sequences that go with the underwater documentary.
Per press notes, Mariuson, a recent acting school graduate, formed Big Key Film with his mother to develop and produce new feature film projects.