Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Science Fiction



Germany 2003 : Franz MULLER : 112 mins

There are many reasons to commend Science Fiction, Mullers graduation project from Colognes Media Arts Academy. Its central idea is wildly original, enabling Muller to make the most of what must have been a virtually non-existent budget. As the (otherwise unexplained) title indicates, this is a science-fiction film, but one which deals in ideas rather than special-effects. Shot on wobbly digital-video, its even more stripped-down in this regard than Jean-Luc Godards Alphaville, an intergalactic tale filmed entirely on real locations in mid-sixties Paris.

We begin in the unremarkable surroundings of a Cologne seminar-room where slick, hyper-confident Marius (Jan Hennik Stahlberg) is delivering an assertiveness-training class. Among his subjects is Jurgen (Arved Birnbaum) – a genial, overweight former East German with severe self-esteem issues. During one particular exercise, the pair step out of the room for a moment. When they re-enter, both are amazed to find that the room now contains art-students painting a life-model.

And that’s just the start of the weirdness. A perplexed Jurgen heads home to his wife and family only to find complete strangers living in his house. Eventually Jurgen and Marius realise they have somehow slipped into an alternative reality one into which they don’t quite fit. Because whenever a door closes between either one of them and a third party, the third party instantly forgets them. It doesn’t take long for the breezily amoral Marius to realise he’s been handed a license to shoplift and to get himself installed in the citys fanciest hotel-suite. Jurgen, however, struggles to adjust. Missing his wife and child, he tries to form a new relationship with lonely receptionist Anja (Nicole Marischka) not an easy thing to do, given the ever-present danger of closing doors…

As student films go (and many German examples are now shown at film festivals), Science Fiction is an impressive, accomplished work. But taken on its own terms as a feature-film, it falls some way short of full potential. In more mature and assured hands, this could and perhaps should have been a European arthouse equivalent to Groundhog Day. But Muller isn’t able to develop his brilliant conceit, and the stop-start pacing makes for a very long two hours indeed.

The results will be familiar to those film-festival denizens who managed to catch Jean-Charles Fitoussis Aura Ete : Les jours ou je nexiste pas (The Days I Dont Exist) in which the protagonist only exists every other day. Like Fitoussi, Muller holds our interest for half an hour or so thanks to the barmy genius of his starting idea but then proceeds to fritter away the goodwill by lapsing into torpid self-indulgence. It doesn’t help that the actors are improvising all of their dialogue Birnbaum, Stahlberg and (especially) Marischka are clearly talented performers, but can’t be expected to come up with a coherent story on their own Muller doesn’t quite seem to have worked out the exact rules of this universe he’s created (cf Juan-Carlos Fresnadillos Intacto). Stahlberg, meanwhile, is all-too-convincing as the unbearably obnoxious Marius a little of whom goes a very long way indeed.

The ending in which Marius and Jurgen suddenly, imperceptibly (and, needless to say, inexplicably) return to the real world is nicely done, hinging on a trip to the toilet where Jurgen tries to get away without tipping the elderly attendant. But its an awfully long time in coming, and many viewers may have long since headed for the exits, hoping that closing the cinema door may wipe the tedium instantaneously from their minds.

25th March, 2004
(seen 24th March : National Museum of Photography Film & Television, Bradford Bradford Film Festival)

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by Neil Young