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Marseille describes an interlude in the life of young Berlin photographer Sophie. Wanting a change, Sophie does an apartment swap, so she can go photograph the city of Marseille, and most of all get away from Berlin.
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Thirteen year-old Marta has recently moved back to southern Italy with her mother and older sister and struggles to find her place, restlessly testing the boundaries of an unfamiliar city and the catechism of the Catholic church.
A young German school teacher begins a new job, a fresh start to hopeful future. She has a vision of her life as a trusted teacher and beloved member of her new neighborhood. Things begin to slip, plans don't quite match her expectations and she falls behind in her life. She is unable to manage the casual cruelty of every day life and it becomes a burden of loneliness and source of chaos she can't escape.
I've seen all of Maren Ade's film as of this writing in 2016 and I don't think she's made a bad, or even middling one yet. The Forest for the Trees is her absolutely astonishing debut and immediately showcases her style and strengths.
First of all this isn't a "beautiful" film. Made as a student thesis you can see it was filmed on the cheap on video so the images will never really bowl you over (with a few exceptions). Where Ade's strength lies is in uncovering the hellish situations in reality. She first introduces us to Melanie Pröschle, a sweet, but goofy school teacher who is moving to a new (small) city to teach grade school students. Feeling alone in her apartment building she quickly spies her neighbour Tina Schaffner, and sets about trying to befriend her, which goes in awkward fits and starts as Melanie is socially awkward and doesn't seem to understand boundaries and is constantly confused as to whether her new friend really likes her or not. At first, the tensions between Melanie and Tina seem like the normal awkward pains that happen when adults struggle to make new friendships, but as the movie wears on, and Melanie's professional life flies further out of control, she places greater and greater importance on Tina and her friendship leading to increasingly disturbing encounters between them.
It is an incredibly painful movie to watch because I'm sure everyone has experienced each side of the coin of being a Melanie or a Tina and this movie presents the worst of both worlds. It also features one of the best endings I've ever seen in a movie, and the final shot will stick in my mind for a long time.
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