Heavy Girls is the story of Sven, his dementia suffering mother Edeltraut and her married male home care worker Daniel (whom we learn Sven happens to have a crush on). Sven and his mother share their lives in a small Berlin apartment (even sharing the same bed). During the day while he is at work at a bank, Daniel comes over to care for Edeltraut and help out around the house. One day while cleaning the windows, Daniel is locked out on the terrace by the mischievous Edeltraut. She then takes off to the streets of Berlin and all Daniel can do is wait for Sven to return from work hours later. Sven and Daniel then search for Edeltraut and in the process come to realize their mutual affection for each other. Thus begins their unorthodox, complicated and often tender romance. Later in the film a traumatic turn of events quickly brings their relationship to deeper level and forces them to look at their lives, the choices they have made and the choices they have available to them.
The film addresses the issues of family, friendship, love, freedom, pain, joy and possibilities; with charm and grace and a whole lot of quirkiness. There is a sense of realness and a true intimacy to the film that is enhanced by the production choices – shot in East Berlin over three months, with only a mini DV cam, a very low budget and no crew. These characters seemed so real that I almost felt guilty spying on their lives.
The performances are powerful, natural, witty and a delight to watch – with Heiko Pinkowski (Sven), Peter Trabner (Daniel) and the superb Ruth Bickelhaupt as Edeltraut (who is fantastic in pretty much her first acting gig and she also happens to be the directors great grandmother). Based on only a short treatment in lieu of a script, the film is almost completely improvised. In one pivotal scene, Sven and Daniel are picnicking by a lake, according to actor Pinkowski, the script basically said “go to a lake and have fun” and oh did they have fun. The scene is at times hilarious, gentle, absurd, and joyful. This range of emotions from moment to moment is demonstrated with such ease throughout the film. From the tender moment of Sven comforting his mother after her solo adventure in the outside world; to their humorous chit-chats over morning coffee; to a scene of the three hanging out in the apartment singing, dancing and playing dress up. Each scene seamlessly displays the depth of these people’s struggles yet also their love and understanding of each other (and also how fun it is to be child-like and silly). Oh and the joy and freedom of being naked…
The enthusiasm of director Axel Ranisch shows in this film. Having just arrived minutes prior to the screening at Slamdance after a 50 hour, delay filled trip from Berlin to Park City; he still had an incredibly infectious excitement for the film. During the Q&A, Ranisch talked about the process of making Heavy Girls. He had been working on a big budget movie with demands and complications from higher-ups and had become increasingly frustrated. The experience pushed him to want to make something that he could control – where he had full creative freedom or in his words, to make a “very good film.” This also happens to be the name of his production company (Sehr gute Filme) which is fitting because this is exactly what he accomplished.
Heavy Girls screens again at the Slamdance Film Fest on Tuesday, January 24, at 7:00 pm. Click here for info on the screening.