The choices they made in Formentera
by Vladan Petkovic
10/02/2012 - German director Ann-Kristin Reyels’ first feature film Hounds [trailer] won the Berlinale Forum FIPRESCI prize in 2007, and she returns to the same section with Formentera, an intimate film about a relationship on a turning point.
A Berlin couple in their early 30’s, Ben (busy film and TV actor Thure Lindhart from Denmark, also often working in the USA) and Nina (Sabine Timoteo, perhaps best known for Matthias Glasner’s The Free Will) go on a holiday to the eponymous Spanish island. They stay with a group of ageing hippies, two of whom appear to be Ben’s family friends. There is also a younger couple of hippies, Pablo (Franc Bruneau) and Mara (Vicky Krieps) with their son Yoko. A strange choice of names for children also features in Ben and Nina’s daughter called Luca, whom they left in Berlin with Nina’s mother.
Both Ben and Nina seem to feel that their relationship, the choices they made, including their jobs and living in Berlin, have been at least somewhat problematic. These doubts and fears slowly surface during the holiday, as Nina eventually discovers that Ben has secretly been planning that they move to the island- he has a potential business with solar panels lined up. But the build-up to this revelation is interesting and sometimes even unnerving, and includes some jealousy on Nina’s part over the free-spirited Mara, and an unexpected development after a beach party.
It seems that Nina is alone in this group of people. She doesn’t support the commune-style life of their hosts (“It feels to me as if they’re all running away from something”), while Ben seems to enjoy it and doesn’t understand her frustration. On the other hand, it turns out that Ben is the one who is less satisfied with their life in Berlin.
Thematically fitting into what is almost a trend in recent German-speaking cinema (best exemplified by Maren Ade’s Everyone Else [trailer, film focus]), Formentera does stand out with its attention to ambiguous details and focus on the female part of the relationship. Timotheo is indeed excellent as doubtful Nina and delivers a brave, touching performance, while Lindhart carries an air of self-righteousness and the physical part of his acting intermittently feels annoying to the spectator. If this is supposed to tell us how Nina feels, then Reyels did a fine job.
Formentera was produced by Berlin-based Unafilm.