LFF ’19 – ‘Lara’ is Unfortunately as Cold as its Subject

Lara Jenkins (Corinna Harfouch) had her dreams stolen from her. Who stole them exactly isn’t entirely clear, but her son Victor (Tom Schilling) is now in possession of them. On the day Lara, a formerly promising pianist, turns 60, her son is performing an original composition to a sold-out Berlin concert hall. Lara, a ‘day in the life’ feature from German director Jan-Ole Gerster, takes us through the titular character’s busy day leading up to the concert. What unfurls is a detailed study of how each of Lara’s encounters sheds a layer from the blunt sexagenarian, revealing aspects of her past and personality.

Understandably, it can be hurtful when a student’s talent exceeds that of their master. Having taught her son how to play the piano, this is the situation in which Lara finds herself. This friction – borne from a mixed cocktail of pride and envy – is compounded by the taut relationship that exists between the pair; Lara isn’t certain she is welcome at the momentous occasion in her son’s career. She rocks up to the concert hall box office in the morning and purchases the remaining 20-odd tickets, handing them out to the family members, former colleagues and strangers she meets as she traverses the capital.

The demons which made Lara a wicked woman are slowly made apparent through encounters with her mother and her own former piano teacher. Both manipulated her in cruel ways when she was an up-and-coming pianist. And as the day goes by, she is constantly reminded of her lost potential. A police officer, who visits her apartment at the beginning of the film, clunkily attempts Beethoven’s ‘Für Elise’ on her piano. When Lara visits her piano teacher, he is absent, but a child is waiting for his lesson to begin. Lara commandeers the lesson, but importantly never plays herself. The uprights scattered throughout the city seem to taunt her until she can finally perform in a moment of slicing catharsis.

Are we meant to eventually like Lara? Probably not. But we might be expected to sympathise with her. Even this is difficult considering the way Lara is presented, which seems to be from a singular, outside perspective. We don’t really know what Lara thinks of herself. But we do know that she is the sort of person to snap the bow of her son’s girlfriend’s violin without reservation, and apparently contemplate suicide with the mixed motivations of ending her grief whilst simultaneously attracting attention away from her successful son. It does often feel like only half the picture is presented.

The screenplay is sharp and seasoned with wit in this intimate portrait of a jealous, well-dressed mother. Harfouch displays excellent skill in bringing this character to life, especially in her well-timed, sassy responses to the people around her, many of whom she clearly deems inferior. Lara ultimately leaves the principal characters’ differences unresolved. The same might be said about the relationship between audiences and this film.

Lara screens at LFF on the 9th and 11th October

 

by Rahul Patel

Rahul Patel is a freelance writer covering Film and Television. His favourite films include When Harry Met Sally and Shrek 2. His special skill is knowing the complex Emmys rules. Follow him on Twitter @RahulReviews (if you’re brave enough).

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