Halfway into Finsterworld and you think you know exactly where the story is heading: an exploration of human nature, an insight into the way in which people connect and form relationships, examining the lives and struggles of all sorts of people across all spectrums of life. If not heart-warming and uplifting, then at least emotive, poignant. But, suddenly, all your expectations are shattered: things get violent. From appallingly inappropriate and traumatic bullying to what is surely one of the most disgusting love declarations in the history of film, Finsterworld is an intriguing, candid film that explores the inevitable dark sides of people’s personalities in a way that is somehow both shocking and upbeat.
Showcased at the Glasgow Film Theatre as part of Fokus: Films from Germany, Finsterworld (meaning ‘dark world’ in German) is described by its creator Frauke Finsterwalder as “realistic yet over-the-top and abstract”. The film weaves together connecting stories to create a haphazard tapestry of the stranger side of human experience; from a cripplingly lonely old woman to an increasingly detached couple, each story focuses on a powerful unrealised desire or an objectively tragic human failing, rendered redeemable in the darkly funny context of the film. It transforms seemingly ordinary people – at least for a moment – into a kind of unrecognisable monster. Each story is compelling and nuanced, challenging the perceptions of the civilised self and what people are capable of. Nowhere is this message clearer than during the visit to the concentration camp: while the teenagers shuffle in boredom, the teacher tries desperately to emphasise the atrocities of the Nazis, but to no avail.
The action takes place over one day, transforming a sense of calm morning stability into an uncertain, broken atmosphere by night. Sunny blue skies and bright landscapes remain the constant background to the film’s often muted turmoil, spliced with visceral moments of violence and sharp observations about life. The vibrancy of the colours, coupled with its vaguely optimistic music, imbue the film with a kind of resilient cheerfulness: no matter what happens in this ‘dark world’ of almost fairytale proportions, life will go on – but in the strangest, most confusing way.