“Do you believe a better world is yet to come?”
In the last couple months, I’ve noticed an intriguing and hopeful trend, related to contemporary German cinema. There’s been a recent spike in female-directed empowerment pieces, which have all been critically acclaimed and financially stable. It all started with Adina Pintilie’s Golden Bear-winning Touch Me Not; an erotically expressionistic film that made headlines and international discourse. From that moment forward, we’ve had films such as Searching Eva, an enlightening experimental documentary on the life and modelling career of sex worker Eva Collé. So where does Susanne Heinrich’s Aren’t You Happy land in this vast mix of under-seen cinematic treasures?
While Heinrich’s intentions are formidable in presentation, Aren’t You Happy is a rather toothless satire on gender politics and the fruitful search for happiness in an era of constant oppression and society-induced melancholy. Focusing prominently on ideas related to first world complications, Heinrich never attempts to step out of her comfort zone, and instead delivers a piece that feels under-cooked in concept. The film is an anthology of sorts, made out of 14 different vignettes/chapters in total. These vignettes cover a wide variety of topics including sex, media exploitation of feminism, and the often times mocked millennial life style.
Told through an emotionless protagonist, consumed by a deadpan performance; the female lead that is featured in every vignette (played by Marie Rathscheck), is in some ways a projector for the audience to relate towards, with each bizarre scenario. These ideas are clever in concept, yet the execution is confused about what it’s trying to say with the film’s colorful cynical spirit. There’s just too many ideas in circulation, that there’s just not enough being actually said.
So where does that leave the rest of the film? Within it’s muddled notions and outlook on today’s nihilistic society, Aren’t You Happy is gracefully supported by a vibrant, cheerful look. The production design is through the roof, with its cotton candy colors and jazzy soundtrack. Heinrich never limits herself in taking experimental risks with her visual flare, and the film’s finale of data-moshed ice-cream indulged paradise, further proves her talent as an artist. Chapter Seven- Dancing Simulation is easily the film’s best segment, in which it utilizes rotoscoping techniques to encapsulate the mundane environment of office work; with disorienting blasting trap music included.
Heinrich’s film may have failed in what it was trying to say, but her direction is commendable and deserving of much applause. With quotable lines such as “I’ve started regarding my depression as a political issue,” Aren’t You Happy is bound to find a cult-audience somewhere. It’s pleasing to watch, regardless of it’s weak interpretations on first world quarrels, and is a fantastical pretentious think-piece that thrives between the boundary line of social commentary and mischievous surrealism.
Aren’t You Happy screened at this year’s Festival Du Nouveau Cinema. The film will play again on Saturday, October 12th at 3:15 PM at Cineplex Quartier Latin 14