KVIFF 2018: Ulrich Köhler's 'In My Room' is Brilliant Life Commentary
by Alex Billington
July 1, 2018
There's nothing better than that feeling you get when you're watching a really great film, nay a phenomenal film, that is brilliant in so many ways. It's a deeply visceral feeling of joy and excitement and invigoration and enthusiasm. Ulrich Köhler's latest film In My Room premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard category, but I only recently caught up with it at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in Czechia. And it's brilliant. One of my favorite films of the year so far, for many different reasons. I'll try to get into a few of the reasons here, but it's hard to explain everything, because some of it is just an indescribable feeling – how it connects deep down within me, not only as stellar cinema but as commentary about relationships and humanity and life on this planet. And how intelligently it handles storytelling to inspire us with wisdom.
Written and directed by German filmmaker Ulrich Köhler, In My Room starts out by introducing us to a schmuck of a guy named Armin, played by Hans Löw. There's not much to him, and he heads home from the city to a small town to be with his dying grandmother. One day he wakes up and discovers that everyone is gone - he's the only one left. There's no explanation or big reason for everyone disappearing, they're just gone. And there's no investigation, the film doesn't waste any time trying to get into what happened or why or what's next. I love the way Köhler plays against conventions and doesn't make this a genre film where we see Armin try to figure out where everyone went or what's going on with the planet. He just starts living by himself. There's also no wasted time explaining how he survives, we expect him to figure it out and he does.
One of the most impressive aspects of In My Room involves the way Köhler handles time. There's quite a few time jumps, and moments where we skip ahead, along with beats where it moves at a regular real-time pace. There's no title cards, no text explaining how far we've jumped, and no reason for this either. But it's unnecessary, because the way he manages time is nuanced and worked right into the editing and pacing of the film. This kind of mature control of filmmaking is only possible from an experience director, who knows how to handle every aspect of cinematic storytelling. As long as your attention is focused on the film, you'll be able to follow and understand when/where the story is at. There's no confusion, just delight, because it helps keep the story focused without wasting time on exposition or explanation or anything else extraneous.
As the film plays out, In My Room becomes an even more fascinating commentary on relationships. Without giving away too much, the story plays with this idea that even if these are the last people left on the planet, things are the same as they were before. We are who we are, and can't help it, no matter the circumstances. It's a bit depressing, sure, but not too much, because the whole film is just so damn intelligent. Köhler's understanding of people and relationships and the way we connect and interact is so profound, yet he's not arrogant in showing us how smart he is. Instead, he works these subtleties into the story and shows us only the right moments that matter (again knowing what is unnecessary). He gives us so many astute thoughts to chew on and mull over, so much to consider and think about in relation to ourselves and our relationships.
My favorite films to discover are the ones that have so much going on in them, so many layers to peel back and analyze, that they spark great discussions among friends for weeks. In My Room is one of these brilliant films that has so much going on in, and the more I think back over it, the more I'm an awe of what there is to consider. Once you get over the big reveal in the film, it's easy to forget everything in the first half and the opening story beats. However, going back over everything after, these moments actually mean something as well, and are just as relevant and packed with commentary and wisdom. It's so beautiful and exhilarating to dive into all of this and figure out what it means. And what we can learn from all of this, what Köhler wants to teach us about humanity and ourselves. Oh, and there's an adorable dog in this film. Yeah, I really love it.
Alex's Karlovy Vary 2018 Rating: 9.8 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing