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New Release Review - ALOYS

A private detective falls in love with his blackmailer.






Review by John Bennett (@johnbennett812)

Directed by: Tobias Nolle

Starring: Georg Friedrich, Tilde von Overbeck, Kamil Krejci



In depicting a brand of romance approached from a place of depression, Aloys is subtle and touching - it’s just too bad the film fumbles confusedly towards this conclusion instead of building towards it.


Earlier this year at the Berlin Film Festival, Aloys, a Swiss film from writer/director Tobias Nölle, enjoyed its premiere as part of the festival’s Panorama competition. Though the film did not win with the Ecumenical Jury, it did manage to snag the FIPRESCI prize for the best film in its competition. I’ll henceforth be wary of that prize at Berlin, because Aloys is simply not that good. The thriller/romance has some good things in it, but you need to search hard for them in this film, soupy with clichés, half-hearted imagery, and a confused story.


Aloys Adorn (Georg Friedrich), a private eye, is a lonely young guy with a penchant for filming people, whether for professional or personal reasons (think Peeping Tom, but morose instead of scary). One day, while drunkenly lamenting the loss of his father, with whom he ran the detective agency, Aloys’s tapes and camera are stolen. While trying to figure out how to retrieve these items, he gets a call from the mysterious woman who swiped them. The caller keeps constant track of the protagonist’s whereabouts, terrorising him with questions that strike nerves in his wounded personal life. Running circles around him, the caller persistently drives Aloys to the end of his emotional rope.

Exciting enough as a premise, right? Strange, then, that Aloys summarily does away with its thriller plot, never to take it up again. After about 40 minutes, the film jarringly changes its tone to tell a story that’s less Peeping Tom and more Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Aloys begins a hesitant fantasy romance via telephone with the caller, who is soon revealed to be Vera (Tilde von Overbeck) an equally lonely neighbour. Once the film kicks the surreal lonely romance into gear, you can tell that Aloys’s heart lies squarely in the disjointed second half. It seems that the lengthy thriller intro only perfunctorily interests Nölle, as evidenced by how carelessly he treats it. Aloys, who seems to have been raised and primed to be a P.I., demonstrates a laughable inability to do effective detective work; while filming one couple on an assignment, he conspicuously stands right outside their window (needless to say, they’re startled to see him). When he first receives the mysterious calls, it seems as if he’s totally incapable of calmly or strategically discovering the identity of his tormenter, as his profession would require. Yet one day, the caller conveniently abandons her cat-and-mouse game altogether, practically revealing her identity and reaching out to Aloys for understanding. After a raucous fantasy party with Vera (who has gained an ethereal virtual proximity to Aloys) and a mélange of strangers that Aloys has encountered (an interesting, if awkward, scene), it becomes clear that the film will lack any complete cohesion. Perhaps the thriller sequence, with its inelegant and clichéd execution, was designed to render the film more watchable or engaging, but it instead distracts (along with a barrage of faux-portentous images that lack thematic weight) from the film’s more pressing examination of two lonely souls trying to converge in a meaningful way.


There are problems with the characterisation of Aloys himself as well, the first of which has to do with the broken scenario. For someone whose job requires a certain cynicism and detachment, Aloys seems rather childish. With his sweaters, his backpack, and his fondness for dolefully sipping Capri-Sun, Aloys looks like a man-child in the act of doing work that no man-child would be capable of. Some of these problems are alleviated when the story recalibrates to better suit Aloys’s character, but some irritating performance tics remain all the same. Friedrich overacts: his expressions are too fraught with bewildered sadness. In the early suspense scenes, his nervous huffing and puffing could blow the house down. (Though it may be unfair to compare Friedrich’s performance to the mastery demonstrated by Gene Hackman in The Conversation (1974), watching Coppola’s film proves that less is more when playing a lonely detective). Another kind of performance decision in Aloys that feels phony—whether the fault of the actors or the director—is that the characters express their anguish by punching walls and breaking chairs, a tactic that almost always rings false. A couple times when Aloys is in the elevator of his building, he lashes out and aggressively elbows the wall. Similarly, later in the film, Vera smashes hospital furniture out of frustration. Acts like this, while perhaps cathartic to perform, are hollow and impotent on screen if not used carefully and sparingly.


If you last through the forest of flaws that obscures Aloys’s main point, you’ll be rewarded with what is a genuinely effective ending. In the film’s strongest moment, Aloys realizes what Vera had been suggesting to him all along (or at least after her transformation from the bogus femme fatale): that an idea of a person does not necessarily correlate with the reality of that person. Nölle goes on to effectively portray the painful, insecure, and ultimately reconciliatory process that comes with this realisation. The scene’s subtlety is an improvement on the similar conclusion of Kaufman’s and Johnson’s Anomalisa (a film I deplored). Here, the film risks falling victim to the same kind of pity-party myopia in which Anomalisa pithily reveled. But Aloys tenderly rises above that level, creating a genuinely moving atmosphere. In depicting a brand of romance approached from a place of depression, Aloys is subtle and touching - it’s just too bad the film fumbles confusedly towards this conclusion instead of building towards it.

Aloys may not be especially strong, but the film is not without its merit. Nölle does manage to occasionally convey complex ideas with controlled stylistic verve. Happily, Nölle is young, and his Berlin award, along with representation at Locarno, should make him more bankable in the future. Let’s hope he differentiates the strengths and weaknesses of Aloys so his next film can more accurately reflect his potential as a filmmaker.

Aloys is in cinemas September 23rd.




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