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GOCRITIC! Karlovy Vary 2019

GoCritic! Review: Lara

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- A first-class tragicomedy in every aspect, Jan Ole Gerster’s long-anticipated sophomore feature proves worth the wait

GoCritic! Review: Lara
Corinna Harfouch in Lara

Arriving seven long years after his popular debut Oh Boy [+see also:
trailer
interview: Jan Ole Gerster
film profile
]
bowed at the festival, Jan Ole Gerster’s Lara [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: GoCritic! Interview: Jan-Ol…
interview: Jan Ole Gerster
film profile
]
was one of the most anticipated films of this year’s Karlovy Vary Competition. The film stars Corinna Harfouch (Downfall [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Bernd Eichinger
interview: Joachim Fest
interview: Oliver Hirschbiegel
film profile
]
) as Lara Jenkins, a retired public servant who finds herself abandoned by her loved ones and either feared or despised by almost everyone else. The story takes place on the day of Lara’s sixtieth birthday and sees her determined to reconcile with her son Viktor, played by Tom Schilling (lead in Oh Boy). Viktor, a talented musician about to perform his first composition at a concert, has distanced himself from his strict and often uncompromising mother.

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This premise may seem an unlikely recipe for the kind of significant international arthouse box-office success enjoyed by Oh Boy, but Lara emerges as a true revelation. Striking a deft balance between tragedy and comedy, Gerster’s second film indeed sets a high bar for all subsequent Crystal Globe contenders this year.

There are several similarities with Oh Boy, in which Schilling starred as a hapless lovelorn hipster. Both films are set in Berlin and treat topics of isolation, disconnection and flawed family relationships. In Lara, however, the focus is reversed from the ‘troubled son’ to the ‘distant parent’ and more deeply invests in discovering to what extent children suffer from their parents’ actions.

Lara, who is extremely proud and ambitious, gradually excludes everyone in her life and is unable to let anyone else in. Her eponymous character, who dominates the film and barely leaves the frame throughout, struggles to reconnect with her son, but fails to accept her own fault in this estrangement. Despite her deeply flawed personality, it is hard not to feel empathy for Lara Jenkins. This is mainly thanks to Harfouch, who delivers one of her career’s best performances as she convincingly transforms into this complex individual.

While Lara’s fascinating psychological portrait is one of the film’s greatest strengths, the ingenious screenplay by Slovenian Blaž Kutin remains focused on the multi-faceted mother-son bond. It is an honest and strongly relatable exploration of some of the most personal relationships in anyone’s life. Kutin dares to scrutinize the main characters in great depth and dissects the dynamic, almost tangible, tensions between them. The narrative gradually uncovers hidden layers and scars of a long gone but never forgotten past, one which hangs over Lara like a dark cloud. Depressing as this all may sound, Gerster and Kutin do find humour even in the most unlikely situations.

Another undeniable merit of Lara is its overwhelming stylistic confidence. Its themes and topics are enriched by the film’s visual aspects. Taking place in an urban and vibrant setting, Lara’s solitude and growing disconnection are increased by director of photography Frank Griebe’s (Run Lola Run, Cloud Atlas [+see also:
film review
trailer
making of
film profile
]
) assured camerawork and knack for attractive, but subdued shots. Lara’s palette of autumn colours also serves as an obvious contrast to the black and white Oh Boy, but at the same time the flair with which it is deployed highlights Gerster’s exciting progression as a filmmaker.

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