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Frieder and his wife Nina, a doctor, are fixing up their house, though their relationship is obviously strained. Instead of picking up their young daughter Charlotte, Nina drives off to visit her brother Christoph in an isolated cabin. From there, she cycles to a sports hotel in the woods where she stays. Aimlessly wandering around the hotel, she has a brief encounter with an old tennis pro who has been giving demonstrations. Her brother, Frieder, and Charlotte find her, but she does not come home with them. After all the old windows have been removed, Frieder rejects the replacement ones that are delivered. Frieder has a liaison an old girlfriend Maria, who is now Charlotte's nursery school teacher. Nina returns to the house without windows. Written by
"Are they dead?" - "No, they are just sleeping." - "I think they are dead."
Sometimes the beginning of a film already sums up everything that is going to follow. The first moments of "Windows on Monday" reveal to us the world through the eyes of a child. A hospital, patients resting in their beds, and the first line of dialogue spoken by young Charlotte. An innocent question, which is nevertheless emblematic for the whole movie. What is it here in Germany (and it's not only Germany) that gives you the impression that some of the people have become the living dead when you are walking through town? That if you'd try to talk to them they would probably keep on staring while realizing that they have lost the ability to speak. Something they probably haven't noticed for a long time. That I am not alone in my perception of our present-day society, can be witnessed in numerous films by a new generation of German filmmakers whose films need to be seen.
Germany 2005. A normal life, a normal couple. Nina works as a doctor, her husband seems to have quit his job. They have a bright young daughter and are building a new house. Money isn't the problem. She may be getting pregnant, though. Some movies need a second chance. When I watched "Windows on Monday" for the first time at the Berlinale in 2006, I was already a firm believer in the talents of Ulrich Köhler, an emerging new talent, who already startled the movie world (or the ones who were paying attention) with his first feature-film in 2002. But although assured by the mastery of Köhler's direction through a couple of re-watches of his masterpiece "Bungalow" and his earlier student film "Rakete" (1999) both available on an excellent subtitled DVD from the German quality label "Filmgalerie 451" I still wasn't prepared for the impact which "Windows on Monday" would have on me. It's not so much the possibility that Köhler has changed his style (I think he hasn't) or that I didn't like the movie. It's simply the fact that you shouldn't watch certain films when you are depressed. As the film has finally been officially released into German cinemas, I decided that my initial reaction to it needed some balance. What can I say after I've seen it again? The second viewing not only reaffirmed the qualities of the film, but was also a pleasant experience in itself. Next time I watch a film by Ulrich Köhler it will hopefully be in a relaxed frame of mind.
Although his films seem to be treading the surprise formula, the biggest surprise may be that nothing much seems to be happening. People come people go, they eat, they @#%$, they talk, and more than anything else they walk. Movement is the only constant in Köhlers work, where everybody seems to be connected with everybody else, but even the characters aren't able to decide what it is exactly, this unseen bond between people. In this way, Köhler's cinema might be related to the mysteries of Jacques Rivette. The relations between people are the focus of the films, as well as the search for meaning in their lives. The characters aren't able to figure out what they want. Having only a vague idea of their dislikes they practice rebellion. But a rebellion that seems to be related more against the self. There is the sense of being trapped in something one doesn't understand, and the world has become unfamiliar as the usual strategies of perception seem to lose their absoluteness.
What if we don't follow the rules anymore, what if we choose to ignore the structures of society? What if? Köhler isn't interested in revolutions. His protagonists' acts seem more as a reworking of a situation, opening up a parallel world because of an extra step which has been taken. When Nina leaves her family she simply does it. There are no grand gestures, no dramatic scenes in the usual sense. The spilling of blood happens between the images. What's left is silence. It's hard to decipher emotions when a face appears motionless, the body only functioning in its basic routine. Still, there are moments when you notice a change, a slight adjustment to each singular situation. With the beginning of Köhler's films, the movement has begun.
The camera keeps following the characters, observing them, and showing us what they are observing in return. But an explanation isn't given. Another act of rebellion, this time from the filmmaker himself. Ulrich Köhler avoids simple explanations. His cinema is rational in the best sense, as he doesn't pretend to know more about the characters than they do themselves. As such, it is up to the viewer to decide - if he wants to decide at all that is.
If we ask what reality is, Köhler maybe answers that it is something which happens and which we can change through our actions. But can we change ourselves? When the Windows arrive, they are the wrong ones. And as our characters follow a funeral, the question remains. Death is not a solution.
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