Berlinale 2018: Thomas Stuber's 'In the Aisles' is a Bitter Sweet Comedy
by Alex Billington
February 23, 2018
There's nothing like an entertaining romantic comedy to instill some warmth and hope in the hearts of all those hopeless romantics out there. In the Aisles, also titled In den Gängen, is a German romantic comedy that was one of the final films to premiere at the 2018 Berlin Film Festival. Set mostly at one of those big box, bulk items stores like Costco, the film is about a quiet, hard-working new employee who falls for one of the other employees. It's a simple romance, but oh so sweet, as sweet as a bar of delicious dark chocolate - meaning there's a tiny bit of bitterness to it, but it's still satisfying. I kind of loved this film, it wanders a bit, but there's something nice about it that made me feel enticed and entranced by its awkward German charm.
In the Aisles stars prominent German actor Franz Rogowski as Christian, a lonely but likable man with a troubled past who has moved on from that life and is now quietly working at this bulk store in the suburbs in Germany. The few times he encounters fellow employee Marion, played by the wonderful German actress Sandra Hüller (last seen in Toni Erdmann), he starts to grow feelings for her and she shows some interest in him in return. But he discovers she's married, although not very happily, and they never really get that close. I hate to make such a terrible comparison, but this film reminded me of that awful Hollywood comedy Employee of the Month, though this is the "indie film", German version of that. And it's so, so much better.
The film's narrative wanders a bit, sometimes going off on unnecessary tangents, making it run a bit longer than it needs to (total running time is 125 minutes). There's also a very odd out-of-character moment in the second half that didn't need to be there, that felt completely out of place in the film. Aside from these gripes, there's so much to enjoy here. The deadpan German humor is amusing and will make you smile, if not laugh out loud. The performances are sweet and simple, though I do wish there was more for Hüller, she could've had a slightly more well-rounded character. There's another co-worker performance by Peter Kurth as Bruno that is memorable as well. Despite not being perfect, this pleasant German film is so lovable anyway.
My tagline suggestion for In the Aisles is: Forklift Romance. There's a good dose of humor that comes from the mundane, repetitive world of the big box store, with forklifts buzzing down the aisles, and customers pushing carts full of items. Director Thomas Stuber plays some scenes with classic music that add another layer of humor, reminiscent of what Ruben Östlund does in his films (Force Majeure, The Square). And even though the film runs a bit too long (trimming it down might make it even better), that authentic charm will win you over. It got to me and melted my heart, and made me happy, and hopeful about romance. Even though it may not seem possible for them to be together, there's still something deep down connecting them.
Alex's Berlinale 2018 Rating: 8 out of 10
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