Someday We’ll Tell Each Other Everything | 2023 Berlin Film Festival Review
Goodbye, First Love: Atef Explores Pangs of Passion Amidst Detached Reunification
For her sixth feature film, Germany’s Emily Atef returns to themes of circumstance keeping lovers (and loved ones) apart with the languorously titled Someday We’ll Tell Each Other Everything (Irgendwann werden wir uns alles erzählen). Set on an idyllic farm located on the recently evaporated border between East and West Germany in 1990, a teen girl comes of age through a tempestuous affair with an older man, an experience akin to the passionate whirlwinds from the classic literature she reads.
Although her situation is unique, including Atef revisiting the invisible thaw in Germany which created more economic and personal upheavals, Atef’s script, co-written by Daniela Krien is beautifully bucolic but a surprisingly flat plateau. Ultimately, the stakes aren’t ever built high enough for its protagonist, who may be willing to throw herself on the train tracks of fate for love, but her options suggest she’ll likely be perfectly alright wherever she might end up, by choice or circumstance.
Maria (Marlene Burow) leads a comfortable, if bored existence, living with her boyfriend Johannes’ (Cedric Eich) family on their quaint farm. Though she’s only nineteen, she’s been living with them for some time seeing as her mother, who lives in the next town with her grandparents, wasn’t able to properly care for her. But a season of change has arrived following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Maria is a bit oblivious to all this. While her adopted family scrambles to reunite with relatives, she prefers to keep her nose in a book, actively ignoring plans for the future even as Johannes makes moves to pursue his own interests. But one day, she notices Henner (Felix Kramer), the handsome, single, forty-year-old farmer who lives nearby. Approaching his property one day, they share a sexually charged moment which, of course, leads immediately to a tempestuous affair. Knowing the community wouldn’t condone their relationship, not to mention what it might do to Maria’s reputation and living situation, Henner struggles with ending the affair. But Maria seems insistently invested in being with him, throwing caution to the wind.
Atef’s title is lifted from a passage in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, the tome Maria’s currently consuming. It’s somewhat of an ill-fitting shroud hovering over the proceedings, especially when Maria’s predicament instead resembles the pastoral version of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, caught between two men and spreading herself between two unhappy families, each unhappy in their own way, etc.
She’s somewhat detached from the adoptive family who’s taken her in, with plenty of hints about a traumatic childhood thanks to instability involving her vaguely aloof mother. Her infrequent visits to her grandmother’s to visit her disinterested mama don’t quite relay the depths of this divide, while her waning interest in Johannes suggests she’s simply chosen an environment where she can be left to her own ambiguous devices. With Germany’s reunification allowing her host family to welcome a prodigal son, Johannes is spurred into following his own pursuits, preparing to leave for Leipzig to study photography. It seems only natural Maria drifts into Henner’s orbit, both of them sharing a need and with few convenient options. But with the border dissolved, what might bring some people together will also drive others apart, something Henner appears to be disastrously aware of.
Unfortunately, Marlene Burow is never allowed to really elevate Maria beyond being a blank slate. While she falls obsessively in love with Henner, her eventual outbursts are typically adolescent and there’s never a sense she’s really formulated an awareness regarding consequences, ultimately saved from having to make any real choice about anything. Burow is reminiscent of various ingenues, particularly introductory characters played by women such as Marine Vacth or Virginie Ledoyen, but Maria’s doggedly introspective personality makes her feel mercilessly inchoate.
Atef exerts focus on the physicality of Henner and Burow, and an initial seduction scene, which is really sold by a brooding Felix Kramer, would have had more impact if we didn’t have a handful of similar lengthy interactions. And it’s really where Someday We’ll Tell Each Other Everything stagnates in its own repetitive cycle. The one-note earnestness of all the supporting characters doesn’t help anything either, particularly Cedric Eich’s performance as Johannes, who has the same wide-eyed expression in every scene shared with Maria. The pulverizing of their puppy love, presumably, wouldn’t ruin her relationship with his parents, who treat her like the daughter they never had seen as Atef doesn’t ever build any tension to suggest otherwise. Sure, she might be in danger of becoming a pariah, but she could go anywhere, do anything. The film’s biggest frustration is the absence of anything innately alarming. Shot by Armin Dierolf (A Piece of Sky, 2022), the film is well stocked in beautiful visual palettes, but ultimately doesn’t have much to say.
Reviewed on February 17th at the 2023 Berlin International Film Festival – Competition section. 129 mins.