First published by Little White Lies
“Is it true that you regularly call a sex line since your father died?”, young Yen Lee (Yufei Li) asks her apartment block neighbour Aloys Adorn (Georg Friedrich).
Yen is onto something. If sex lines are designed to fuel erotic fantasy, rooted in the auditory domain, for those who have problems with intimacy, then Aloys – near permanently attached by an earpiece to mobile phone or digital recorder while eschewing any more direct human contact with the woman on the other end of the line – is engaged in his own imaginative exercise of masturbatory solipsism.
Aloys is a loner who actively avoids other people. He shuns the overtures of a crematorium worker (Agnes Lampkin) who recognises him from school. He ignores the curious Yen (“You’re even more friendly than your father”, Yen complains sarcastically). He rejects the offer of the janitor (Sebastian Krähenbühl) to bring up a parcel in return for a beer. And he never meets face-to-face either with his clients or with the people he observes and records in his work as detective – although he does, behind the closed door of his flat, obsessively view the videos that he has shot of them, and of his father, and of various animals. To Aloys, the outside world and other people are best kept at a remove – and the opening shots of Tobias Nölle’s feature debut, revealing Aloys’ apartment devoid of furniture or vital signs (apart from a running tap and an abandoned video camera), are an apt introduction to his empty, insulated life.
The night of his father’s cremation, Aloys passes out drunk on a bus, and awakens to find his camera and nine DV tapes stolen. Not long after, a mysterious blackmailer (Tilda von Overbeck) calls, and tells Aloys about “phone-walking… invented in 1984 by a Japanese neurologist… for shy men.” Aloys works out who his caller is, but not before her voice and words have taken hold of his imagination, and he has started fantasising a wholly different life – of excursions, parties, friendship and more.
If, like the protagonist of Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem, Aloys has the habit of referring to himself in the first person plural, that is because both are extreme introverts caught at the intersection between reality and fiction, uncertain where their minds end and the world begins. And if Aloys is also, like Eraserhead‘s Henry, a withdrawn dreamer exiled within his own apartment, then here too the radiator will help him find a momentary heaven. Still, while his telephonic partner may be a Dream Girl, she is not of the Manic Pixie variety, but comes with her own very real loneliness and desperation, no matter how much Aloys may idealise her.
Much of Nölle’s film is shot wide, inviting us either to observe its chimerical imagery from a distance, or to try to get in close, even at the risk of pain. For Aloys is a modern fable of alienation, full as much of sadness as of hope for a better, more connected existence.
Anticipation: Always love a ‘muttering man’ movie.
Enjoyment: A sensual journey of discovery through the inner mindscapes of an alienated solipsist.
In Retrospect: Austere yet fanciful, it is a haunting vision of loneliness and escape.
© Anton Bitel