KVIFF 2019: Lara

Oh Boy director Jan-Ole Gerster returns with a darkly comic and stealthily moving study of a 60-year-old woman who's having trouble accepting her pianist son's success

Film Review by Jamie Dunn | 02 Jul 2019
  • Lara
Film title: Lara
Director: Jan-Ole Gerster
Starring: Corinna Harfouch, Tom Schilling, André Jung, Volkmar Kleinert, Rainer Bock, Mala Emde, Gudrun Ritter

A woman wakes, opens the window of her flat, pushes a chair up against it, and prepares to jump... then the doorbell rings. This is Lara (Corinna Harfouch), today is her birthday, and we’re about to follow her for 24 hours to discover why she’s prepared to end it all. It’s a bold opening gambit for sure – and arguably a distasteful one – but melodrama here is kept to a minimum. What unfurls instead is an excruciating comedy of awkwardness that blossoms into a moving examination of a life lost and chances not taken.

Director Jan-Ole Gerster takes his time divulging the mysteries of his title character. In his delightful debut film Oh Boy (aka A Coffee in Berlin) we followed a feckless hipster on an indistinct journey around Kreuzberg. Lara follows a similar structure, although uptight West Berlin replaces the laidback East, and this protagonist is patently more forceful. It transpires that her pianist son, Viktor (played by Oh Boy star Tom Schilling), is due to debut a new composition that evening, and Lara has bought up the venue’s last remaining tickets and intends to give them away to the people in her life. These range from her mother, who doesn't care for classical music, to a complete stranger who compliments her outfit.

This act of altruism is performed with barely concealed contempt. It’s as if these gifted tickets are a weapon against her loved ones who haven’t thought to buy her a present for her sixtieth. The story runs far deeper, though. The slow reveal of Lara’s dysfunction gives this character study a thriller-like tension, accentuated by the noirish score and Lara’s femme fatale getup of blood red coat and huge sunglasses.

Blaz Kutin’s script is at its most incisive when exploring Lara’s love-hate relationship with the piano. Something of a child prodigy herself, her scenes confronting her son’s talents walk the razor’s edge between motherly pride and professional envy. At one point she gatecrashes a random 13-year-old’s piano lesson and takes it upon herself to school the disinterested lad in the art of tickling the ivories, before spitefully suggesting his ineptitude is sure to bring shame to his parents and that perhaps he’d be more suited to the trumpet.

It’s fair to say Lara isn’t the most likeable of characters, not that she seems to worry what people think of her. When an ex-colleague confides in Lara that everyone at work hated her, the indefatigable protagonist doesn’t bat an eyelid at the information. It’s a testament to Harfouch’s icy turn that she keeps you on side. The actor doesn’t give much away, which only makes you lean in closer to figure out what makes this woman tick. The film can be read as a lament to the way women often have to give up their own ambitions for their children. In Lara, it’s the mother who takes the spotlight.

Lara had its world premiere at the 54rd Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, where it competes in the Official Competition