Thirty

Simona Kostova’s 2019 film is showing on Mubi for the next four weeks. Watched it last night, to mixed attention and assessment.

Affecting at moments – at others, dull and dreadful. Millennial Berliners, ‘alone together’ but standing apart in their anomie and cultivated gormlessness, compulsively smoking, saying little but still finding opportunities for casual cruelties. Tests of empathy are met with refusals, and small-bore jealousies preempt possible communication. There’s a bit of play-grownup Clark-era Kids here – amazing that it’s a quarter-century on from that one! – but with less prurience or masculine gaze. Just the ambient urban drift of young adults in a rich city demanding little of them. They talk briefly of their suffering, but it’s an inert malaise and feels transparently unearned, disproportionate to their uncomplicated lives and what the city provides. One actress wears a “Refugees Welcome” shirt while prepping for all-night partygoing, but there’s little other evidence of the German populist right rattling their cages, and they keep finding safe, albeit indifferent, harbors in dull, unappointed apartments and nightclubs throughout the film.

Is this a Euro-mumblecore analogue to An Elephant Sitting Still? It’s too easy to be frustrated with this film, these characters. Maybe this is simply portraiture, and true. Nevertheless, Kostova gives her film greater accommodation for incident as it goes on, moving past the day-waiting in white cubes in its first half. The final 30 minutes are strongest, when modest club-bound epiphanies and moments of (sexual, emotional) panic season the earnest long takes with small, necessary surprises. After a long night of otherwise little moment, the principals gather for a rote, mechanical breakfast with faces to match – long, strangely both underbaked and lived-through – and the movie literally ends with a laugh. But one suggesting neither release nor re-set, just an inside joke in an internal conversation that hasn’t yet found its time or audience.

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