German film has been suffering from an utter lack of strong genre films during the past years. With the exception from a few, rare surprises like independent filmmaker AKIZ’s brilliant film Der Nachtmahr (which became a flop that ultimately left the director in debt), there is no real courage to delve back into certain narrative patterns, and when they do, they play it incredibly safe, which dampens the hope for possible investors of such films even more. It’s very strange, especially since turning back time reveals that the brightest lights were of German cinema, where genre films such as Metropolis, Vampyr, and M shaped their successors worldwide into what they are today.
While Ulrich Köhler’s In My Room, a film heavily influenced by the filmmaking style of the Berliner Schule–a german filmmaking movement that originated in the 90’s, whose representatives are often formed by a depressive, stakeless atmosphere mirroring both social and humanist grievances–is not a genre film per se, but it shows a surprising amount of flirtation with post-apocalyptic motifs and images. It’s a refreshing change of pace on a visual plane, not only for the Berliner Schule, but the entirety of contemporary german film.
The film starts off at a rather different place. Köhler shows us the depressing and frustrating routine of Armin (a perfectly cast Hans Löw), a 41-year old freelancer, who just screwed up a whole row of interviews, by accidentally turning the camera off, instead of on, when it’s necessary, showing us the wild camera movements inbetween. While the footage might have some artistic merit elsewhere, his chef is not amused. In the evening he goes goes to a club, partying away the frustration and brings home a girl way too young and barely legal. She leaves before anything happens, and he remains alone. As he moves back to his hometown, he is confronted by the reality of his family, his grandma on her deathbed, his dad in a rather happy relationship with a woman who isn’t his mother–a spark of jealousy over their love is felt, but especially the deep cynicism that has built up inside of him. One day, Armin wakes up, his grandma has died, and everyone is gone. Except from non-human creatures, he is completely alone in the world.
From here on out, a story unfolds that shows how Armin interacts with the vast spaces and the vast and overwhelming possibilities. He is now alone, far away from the pressures of modern society. It shows how he becomes a very different person, in both his physicality (the “skinny legend” memes would be inevitable) and his psychology–being impacted by his past, as it always is. It’s obviously an allegory on loneliness, growth, the toxicity of capitalism and the need for love, that manages to create some beautiful imagery and great man vs/man with nature moments.
The film manages to work on a thematic rail until the end, and yet there is a sensation of slight letdown when it is finally over. The frustration over the potential of both the premise and some unexpected turns during the second half, which never really find their way to unfold themselves completely, is too big. Even though it isn’t a surprise in retrospect. The Berliner Schule tropes keep the film in a thematically coherent lane, but the emotional suppression that is inherent to them suffocate the possibilities of more emotional involvement by the viewer. Köhler doesn’t really do anything wrong, but he games away the chance to create something memorable. It’s still very much worth seeing, as a more ambtious and interesting entry into the Berliner Schule canon, and its small, well-calculated moments.