Our coverage of the Edinburgh International Film Festival resumes with the UK premieres of two German films, both dealing with young men who attempt to find escape from their mundane lives. My Words, My Lies – My Love stars Daniel Brühl (Inglourious Basterds) as David Kern, the self-described “perfect waiter,” invisible to everyone. This goes especially, David laments, for women. So he engages in a traditional male activity: lying to impress a girl. But when he passes off a discarded manuscript as his own work to the literary-minded Marie (Hannah Herzsprung), David accidentally stumbles into critical acclaim. Barely able to do public readings from his own novel, David’s problems multiply when Jacky (Henry Hübchen) appears, claiming to be the original author, and begins to take over David’s life.
As one attendee pointed out in a brief Q & A session with director Alain Gsponer, it would be easy to draw parallels between this and Brühl’s 2003 film Good Bye Lenin! whose plot also revolves around the idea of living a lie. For me, the more interesting comparison is with the other film I happened to see that day. Gravity follows the story of bank employee Frederik Feinermann (Fabian Hinrichs) who, after witnessing one of his clients commit suicide, finds himself unable to continue living his old life. Following a chance reunion with Vince (Jürgen Vogel), an old school friend trying to go straight, Frederik descends into a world of violence and criminality, dragging Vince back down with him. Superficially, there would seem to be little resemblance between the two films. On the one hand there are the romantic comedy charms of My Words, My Lies – My Love, and on the other the brutal satire of Gravity. Never, reason would suggest, the twain are likely to meet.
But it would be a disservice to both films to pigeonhole them so neatly. Gsponer shows considerable skill in blending the rom-com elements of My Words, My Lies – My Love together with a more melancholic side. Meanwhile, Maximilian Erlenwein, writer/director of Gravity, managed to raise frequent laughs from the audience, while never dispelling the discomfort he cultivates. The two directors clearly have different goals in their productions, but perhaps as a result of seeing Gravity immediately on the heels of My Words, My Lies – My Love, I couldn’t help but get the sense that they were approaching the same ideas from different viewpoints. Both David and Frederik seek to gain something more out of life. David attempts to find it by getting close to Marie, and gets more than he bargained for. Frederik tried the romantic route and failed; relinquishing to the primeval urge to do violence becomes, in his view, the only recourse.
Both speak to the same reservoir of anxiety and dissatisfaction, though the situations, the characters, and the moods of the two films remain quite distinct. And while I enjoyed them both, it is Gravity that makes the greater impression, for its riveting depiction of what happens when that reservoir bursts.