A family unit is an interesting thing. While in most cases blood is thicker than water that does not absolve the family of trying times and conflict. Troubled families are interesting fare for films. Many a film has tackled dysfunctional families. Some do it well while others do it a disservice. Sensitivity and restraint are required. Hans-Christian Schmid is just the man for the job. His film is quiet and steady with his telling of the story of a German family going through a hard time…lots of hard times.
Marko (Lars Eidinger) has his son (Egon Merten) for the weekend. They’re going to his parents’ house for the weekend. On the train on the way there they meet a woman who ends up being his brother Jakob’s (Sebastian Zimmler) girlfriend Ella (Picco von Groote).
Very early on over this family weekend it is clear that not all is well with the Heidtmanns. Jakob is a dentist whose business is not going so well and his father (Ernst Stötzner) has retired from the publishing business. He has sold the business. Their mother (Corinna Harfouch – Downfall, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer) is ill. Marko, who is a writer, tells his brother that he has separated from his wife, but is too afraid to tell his parents.
Gitte announces to everyone that she has stopped taking her medication for the last two months. Both sons are worried about her condition. Her condition has been diagnosed as depression or manic depression. The brothers disagree about what their mother is doing. Gunter is leaving soon to travel to the Middle East to promote his book. Gitte feels like her husband and sons treat her like she’s not really there.
Early one morning Gitte leaves in her old car. When the rest of the family gets up they are all worried. They go looking for her. That night they tell the police. The next morning they start a search for her where they find her abandoned car.
A woman named Susanne (Birge Schade) comes to the house. Gunter tells Marko that he and Susanne have been together for two years and that he recently told Gitte. Both sons are angry at their father.
How each member of this upper middle class family deals with all that is going on is looked at from several angles. They do love one another, but they are all also fighting for their sanity and peace of mind during this tumultuous period. The older son Marko is who most people can relate to. Though each of the characters has characteristics all of us possess. Jakob, the younger brother, is quite childish in his reaction. There are a lot of unresolved issues between the two brothers and in this stressful period they are bound to come out. Gunter just wants things to go smoothly and wants the bad times just to disappear.
Despite the fact that there is emotion and a couple of confrontations it is kept quite even keeled. The anxiety is there about where Gitte is, what has happened and what is going to happen. A director with less confidence might have been more heavy handed with his judgments of each of the characters. Instead the film is helped along by the fact that he just tells the story and doesn’t colour things with his feelings.
At the beginning you think this is going to go down a very predictable path. Then it ends up surprising you in a great way. The ensemble cast all does a great job. Who most impressed me was Corinna Harfouch’s portrayal of Gitte. She conveys the determination of a woman dealing with mental illness to be well her way and the strength required to deal with and react to the way her family is treating her.