KVIFF 2019: 'Lara' is Another Outstanding Film from Jan Ole Gerster
by Alex Billington
July 2, 2019
He's finally back with another film! German filmmaker Jan Ole Gerster earned himself a modest following with his first feature debut, a B&W film from 2012 titled A Coffee in Berlin (also known as Oh Boy). The film is a cult classic because it's known as pretty much the definitive film about life in modern Berlin today, what it's like and how it feels and everything. Jan Ole Gerster is finally back on the scene with his second feature film, titled Lara, which is premiering back-to-back at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival then the Munich Film Festival this summer. It's another outstanding film from Gerster, and another outstanding character study, a portrait of a mother dealing with her thoughts and emotions and feelings on her 60th birthday. I just hope we don't have to wait seven more years for Gerster's next film, because he's a seriously talented filmmaker.
Gerster's Lara, with a screenplay written by a Slovenia author named Blaž Kutin, is about a woman named Lara and is set on her 60th birthday. Just as with A Coffee in Berlin, the film takes place over the course of one long day, and follows Lara as she travels around Berlin and meets various people, leading up to a big evening in which her son puts on a live performance at a concert hall. Her son is a pianist, and so is she, but after raising him to be as talented as he is, she had to give up her pursuit of greatness. But that's all subtly worked into the contemplation and revelations from the conversations she has. Corinna Harfouch plays Lara, channeling Isabelle Huppert in a nuanced, fierce, layered performance as a woman incredibly unhappy about everything in her life at this point. She doesn't seem to care much about anyone or anything anymore.
What I love in particular about this film is the way it can be interpreted and understood differently by every viewer. Lara is one of these top notch films that everyone will all get something different from. Everyone's experience with it will be unique, and everyone will be affected personally in their own unique way. There's so many different compelling characters, even minor ones that appear briefly. And one of them can have an impact on you even if the main character doesn't. And that's the mark of a master, telling one specific story that says so much in so many astute ways. And while the main story of Lara we're following can be analyzed and critiqued, there's so many other layers beyond that that are also worthy of admiration and examination. I don't want to tell anyone what to think, because you can go in and have your own experience with this film.
The other thing about Jan Ole Gerster's films is that he shoots Berlin better than pretty much anyone. Very few other filmmakers can capture the city and the feel and the vibe of modern day Berlin like Gerster does. Lara is different than A Coffee in Berlin in quite a few ways, a bit more mature & a bit more formal with the cinematography from DP Frank Griebe, but it still perfectly captures the city. There's numerous stunning shots of Lara traveling around, going into buildings, with the camera positioned carefully and meticulously across the street (or somewhere nearby). I admire the way each frame feels pulled back enough to establish the location, but isn't so wide as to lose its focus on Lara and get lost in the city. But he also pulls in closer and keeps the camera pointed at Lara the entire time, giving us an intimacy that few others in her life have.
There are so many layers upon layers worked into this film. I really believe Gerster is a seriously excellent filmmaker who should be making more films and given opportunities to tell more stories, but he is holding back (for whatever reason). And now that we get to see another film from him, I can only praise it in hopes that maybe he'll continue making more films. On the surface, Lara is about a mother and her son and their struggles to be themselves, but it's also about how so many people sacrifice themselves to support others, and then criticize those others when they achieve the greatness they hoped for themselves. There's a tension that builds throughout and I kept waiting for an explosive scene with yelling & screaming, but it doesn't get there - thankfully. Instead, it's kindness, companionship, and the power of music that triumphs in the end.
Alex's Karlovy Vary 2019 Rating: 9 out of 10
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