by Bénédicte Prot
- Wonderfully written, directed and acted, Sabrina Sarabi’s first feature film transforms a young and gifted pianist, a new recruit in a prestigious conservatory, into a full-blown romantic hero
It was a very well-directed and impeccably written full-length movie that scriptwriter-filmmaker Sabrina Sarabi presented in a world premiere within the New German Cinema section of the 37th Filmfest München. A no-bells-and-whistles piece, directed with the restraint and exaltation that the subject requires and carried solidly by its actors, Prélude is set in a very high-level music conservatory, with its huge, bare classroom and its nigh-on monastic rehearsal rooms and tiny bedrooms. The young hero, in the most romantic sense of the word, is David (Louis Hofmann), a new student in the piano department whose dedication to his work rather swiftly wins out against the calm yet unyielding rigour of his teacher (Ursina Lardi), whose keen ear picks up upon the most imperceptible musical misinterpretations. Alongside these characters, we find Walter (Johannes Nussbaum) with his insolent angelic looks, David’s rival in music and love. Walter takes cruel pleasure in harassing David with unrelenting regularity, mirrored only by the reverberation of his ping pong ball as it bounces incessantly in the silence of the night.
And then there’s Marie von Lilienthal, played by Liv-Lisa Fries, a false ingénue and a genuine tormentor, whose demurely floral dresses bely a far less demure body, and whose innocent face, perched upon a slender neck, conceals unimaginably devious thoughts (unimaginable for David, at least). From the first time they meet (where Marie appears almost as if in apparition form), David is captivated, hooked, and his monomania (which expresses itself through a mix of introversion and, at times, expansiveness, which corresponds well with the ideal qualities we imagine the pianist to possess) switches focus, to the point of jeopardising his chances of winning the Julliard scholarship so coveted by all his classmates, and risks upsetting his fragile equilibrium; because this is a desire which David can’t even come close to satisfying by way of anything concrete, like work; it’s a desire which he is reduced to running wildly towards in a passionate fantasy world.
With its title, which speaks of a beginning, but which also hints at what is yet to be accomplished, and its classicism which situates the film in a whole other time (in this strict and impossibly Germanic establishment, where everyone is blond with light eyes, where the impeccably turned out students use the polite form of « you » when addressing one another, sparking up dated conversations on notions such as "Heimat" - homeland and nation – and where the loved-up couple read one another passages from books), Prélude clearly follows in the great tradition of romantic tales on the torments of adolescence and the highs and lows of first love. All of which is very well conveyed by Hofmann who remains withdrawn and inscrutable for the duration of the film, despite a handful of emotional outbursts that hint at the storm that is brewing inside David as he navigates a seemingly hostile universe, with pressure exerted upon him at every level, as if the whole world were against him. Similarly, the mise en scène, which is highly controlled without a hint of heaviness, alternates between voluptuousness and coolness, oneiric turbulence and static shots, so as to portray the troubles and dangerous folly of this age in a rather subjective manner, but without ever allowing the viewer too close.
(Translated from French)
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