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‘All My Loving’: Film Review | Berlin 2019

Rising-star television director Edward Berger tracks the midlife crises of three adult siblings from a middle-class German family in this generational drama.

Perhaps there’s some mystifying irony intended in the appropriation of the Beatles song as the title of All My Loving? Because it’s hard to perceive much warmth among the singularly unlikeable members of the family whose problems are explored in exhaustive yet somehow superficial detail in Edward Berger’s high-sheen soap. Even Grandma is frosty and self-absorbed. Since drawing attention with his work on the Cold War thriller series Deutschland 83, the director has continued to establish a foothold in international prestige TV with Patrick Melrose and The Terror. But his third feature seems more episodic than any of those projects.

Berger is attached to direct the Steven Knight-scripted thriller Rio, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Benedict Cumberbatch, with whom he collaborated on Patrick Melrose. His flavorless work on this film, scheduled for May 2 release in Germany, suggests his strengths might be more as a hired hand than an auteur. 

The film is divided via cutesy headings into five parts — a brief prologue, three principal chapters and a coda, with the central sections each focusing on one of three adult siblings, all facing their own transitional fork in the road. We get a taste of them all briefly as they meet at a blandly upscale eatery chosen by 40ish Stefan (Lars Eidinger), which says a lot about his taste and about the eye-rolling disdain for it shown by his big sister Julia (Nele Mueller-Stofen, who co-wrote with Berger) and younger brother Tobias (Hans Low).

During that encounter it’s decided that Stefan will take care of Julia’s insanely pampered dog while she takes a weekend break in Italy with her husband Christian (Godehard Giese), while Tobias is reluctantly chosen to visit their parents, prompted by a decline in their father’s health. The fact that the house-husband has three kids to care for and a long-gestating thesis to complete sways nobody.

Berger appears to have missed the memo about time being up on toxic masculinity, since Stefan could be a poster boy for obnoxious white-male hedonism. He’s a commercial airline pilot who drives a Porsche, has a swimming pool crawling with shapely babes and uses the allure of his uniform even when he’s off duty to pick up single women for quick hits of anonymous hotel sex. The very definition of a seedy playboy.

But poor Stefan has problems. He’s been off work for three months with headaches and hearing loss, and the lack of improvement means he’ll likely have to retrain for a new career. His teenage daughter from a previous relationship, Vicky (Matilda Berger), no longer wants to live with her mother, but when he tries to play the protective parent she brutally puts him in his place. Even his charms with women appear to be wearing off if a stinging rejection is any indication. And if that’s not clear enough, the turd mountains deposited on his floor by Julia’s pooch show the state his life is in.

Off in Turin, Julia finds a new focus for her neurotic obsession when a street dog gets hit by a motorist. In a scene that possibly is aiming for humor but instead comes off as idiotic, she insists on carrying the bleeding dog back to the hotel and calling a doctor. Why not just ask at the front desk about an animal hospital? In any case, the dog’s injuries are less important than its symbolic surrogacy, filling a void that gets reopened during a dinner party, when a loud and extremely voluble old buddy of Christian’s (Philipp Hochmair) kills the evening by mentioning their son.

Tobias, the most tolerable of the three, gets an indifferent welcome from his parents. His mother (Christine Schorn) is consumed by her project remodeling the bathroom, and his father (Manfred Zapatka) makes no secret of his disapproval of Tobias for letting his wife be the breadwinner. It’s not surprising that the sour old man’s care-worker has quit and refuses to return. Tobias seeks distraction by fraternizing with students in a drinking game at a local bar, but he’s too old to be one of them and he knows it. And the days of his folks being able to continue living independently are obviously numbered.

In press notes Berger offers up his admiration of American independent directors like Ang Lee, Todd Haynes, Todd Solondz, Lisa Cholodenko and Noah Baumbach, citing The Ice Storm, Happiness and The Kids Are All Right among his influences. I failed to see any trace of that in All My Loving, which has as much teeth and personality as a gummy bear. Even when the struggles faced by the characters are major life blows like the loss of a child or parent, or the abrupt cutoff of a career, there’s little emotional heft. And the conclusion merely tacks on a tidy wrap-up that’s meant to make us share the joy and hope of renewal of characters we’ve been given scant reason to care about.

This is more a fault of the insipid writing than the capable actors, who are captured in lots of crisp close-ups. But their characters, while perhaps intended to represent a rudderless generation grasping for traction, have too little under the surface to probe.

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Panorama)
Cast: Lars Eidinger, Nele Mueller-Stofen, Hans Low, Christine Schorn, Manfred Zapatka, Matilda Berger, Godehard Giese, Franziska Hartmann, Philipp Hochmair, Anna Ferzetti
Production companies: Port-au-Prince Film & Kultur Produktion, Pandora Film Produktion
Director: Edward Berger
Screenwriters: Nele Mueller-Stofe, Edward Berger
Producers: Jan Kruger, Jorg Trentmann, Raimond Goebel
Directors of photography: Jens Harant, Philipp Haberlandt
Production designer: Cora Pratz
Costume designer: Sabine Bockmeyer
Music: Hauschka
Editor: Barbara Toennieshen
Casting: Nina Haun
Sales: Beta Film

118 minutes

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