It seems to be a running theme in all the films I've had the fortune of seeing in three years I've attended the EIFF so far — taking a story or subject that at first appears normal or cliched and taking it in an unexpected direction.
Just one of those films at the EIFF 2010 was Gravity, a peculiar film that's part drama, part crime caper that takes what you expect from a film of this type and turns it on its head. It's nothing spectacular, with too many problems to ignore, but when it works it works extremely well. If nothing else, it's a strange and entertaining exercise in trying something unique within the well-trodden crime genre.
The story centres on Frederick Feinermann, an average, no -one-out-of-the-ordinary employee of a bank. One day he witnesses a horrific suicide right in front of him by an in-debt client and sees this as a sign to shake things up in his life. He soon turns into an everyday employee by day and criminal-under-a-mask by night. Along the way he gets involved with a past girlfriend and is helped out with his criminal activity by an old friend who up until that point had been in jail for years.
There are many things that make Gravity unique amongst similar films, but one prominent thing is its stylish nature. Director Maximilian Erlenwein, making his feature film début, chooses to pepper the film with unusual shots, from long, lingering ones to quick cuts when the action ramps up (not that there's a lot of the latter), all the while with a slick, polished look it.
There's also a surprising use of music (not musical score) that offsets what's happening on-screen. It's certainly a film whose soundtrack I'd love to listen to by itself — the mark of a great choice of music.
The film is also strangely shocking at times with what is shown on-screen with scenes that stick in your memory long after the credits roll. For example, at one point Frederick is sitting in his office when he imagines a masked robber (himself?) in the middle of the room and when his boss walks past the robber knocks him out with the butt of a shotgun. Another example is the aforementioned scene when a client kills himself right in front of Frederick.
However, despite its admirable originality, Gravity is far from great. Probably the biggest problem with the film is the lack of clarity and explanation for what's going on. A lot of the time the character's motivations don't make a whole lot of sense and sometimes characters weave in an out of the story with no real explanation for who they are or how they relate to the story. Now perhaps that was on purpose to make the film ambiguous and have you make up your own mind but it just came off as confusing instead of clever.
Another thing that doesn't quite work is the inclusion of the love storyline with Frederick and a former girlfriend. It feels forced and just thrown in there to stretch the film out as much as possible (the film runs for 96 minutes but feels a lot longer). At least some convincing performances from the three main players – Fabian Hinrichs, Nora von Waldstatten, and Jurgen Voggel – are enjoyable enough to make the film bearable in its lowest moments.
Overall while I didn't love Gravity, I still found it to be a stylish, strikingly confident first feature from a director who I hope goes on to have a successful career. Despite its problems, his first film is at least a diversion from what we usually see from a crime film.