Germany’s reunification as a backdrop for two attractive bodies uniting over and over again is one way to sum up Someday We’ll Tell Each Other Everythingwhich director Emily Atef (3 Days in Quiberon) adapted from Daniela Krien’s popular 2011 novel.
The problem with this handsomely made, well-acted and overwrought rural drama is precisely that: What’s interesting is not the doomed love affair between a beautiful 19-year-old girl and a strapping farmer more than twice her age, in a story that’s played out like Lady Chatterley’s Lover meets Fifty Shades of Gray in the former DDR. It’s whatever the film has to say about the struggling family and farming community that serves as its setting, during a period just after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Someday We’ll Tell Each Other Everything
The Bottom Line
Fraught with passion and platitudes.
Unfortunately, Atef gives short shrift to the latter in favor of the former, in a movie that starts off rather promisingly but veers towards caricature midway through, never to find its way again. Perhaps Germans have had enough of reunification stories — after all, it’s been over three decades now — but the same might be said for bodice rippers that pile on the clichés about hot sex and star-crossed lovers.
Co-written by Atef and Krien, the script initially paints a well-rounded portrait of the world that young Maria (Marlene Burrow) finds herself in before the affair begins. Estranged from her unemployed mother (Jördis Triebel), who lives with in-laws in a neighboring village, Maria has become a permanent houseguest of her boyfriend, the aspiring photographer Johannes (Cedric Eich). His family is a tough if loving clan, and Johannes’ parents (Florian Panzner, Silke Bodenbender) are doing their best to keep the farm going after communism falls and their country reunites.
In comes Henner (Felix Kramer), a dashing rancher who looks like 90s-era Daniel Day Lewis and lives just across the fields on a semi-abandoned horse farm. He has a reputation for drinking and womanizing, and also for being a voracious reader. The latter is something he has in common with Maria, who spends her days sitting around Johannes’ attic and binging Dostoevsky’s. The Brothers Karamazov (the film takes its title from a line in the book), rather than trying to get into college.
Maria and Henner inevitably wind up crossing paths, and although it’s touch and go at first, soon enough they’re engaged in a torrid, forbidden affair that Atef captures in plenty of lurching detail. The sex scenes — and there are quite a few of them — provoked a few cackles during the film’s press screening in Berlin, not because they’re so intense (and kudos to the actors for making those moments believable), but because they drum up familiar tropes about rugged farm men being talented beneath the sheets.
Indeed, DH Lawrence famously explored that setup Chatterley, a story that gets adapted to the screen every ten years or so, most recently in a Netflix original. But Lawrence’s book was also about the English transcending class through physical abandonment, whereas Atef toys with social themes but never connects the dots between her two plots, one dealing with reunification, the other with desire and doom.
The former storyline makes for the most interesting moments in Someday, as we watch Johannes’ family deal with the arrival of a long lost brother, Hartmut (Christian Erdmann), who fled to the west as a young man and is now returning as a successful engineer to help save the farm. This conjures up plenty of emotions between them, not to mention some bad vibes, as everyone in the former east is suddenly forced to reckon with the arrival of capitalism on their doorstep.
An early sequence sums this up well as Maria and Johannes venture across the now open border to Munich, seeing a CD player for the first time and realizing what they may have been missing. But the film also underlines how life in the DDR had its advantages: You had to make whipped cream by hand, which is always better than when it comes from the can, and there was camaraderie among people struggling together, made clear in a scene where Maria belts out a patriotic song she learned in a communist summer camp, with everyone at the dinner table joining in.
Those sequences are ultimately more memorable than a romance we’ve seen too many times before, even if the age difference between Henner and Maria does add an interesting conflict, although one that doesn’t seem to bother either of them all that much. The main issue is that Henner is stuck in the mud and still nostalgic for life in the east, whereas Maria, although she never quite voices her desires — indeed, she hardly speaks much, but nor does Henner for that matter — clearly needs to get out of town.
Both newcomer Burrow and the veteran Kramer (Dogs of Berlin) give full-blooded and -bodied performances that keep us interested despite the familiar direction the story takes and the fact that it runs for over two hours. Atef, whose last feature, More Than Everwas also a love story — and one in which the co-star, Gaspar Ulliel, tragically died before the movie premiered — shows a sure hand in guiding her cast through difficult scenes and outsized emotions, while keeping the pacing tight enough.
But as a filmmaker she’s never had much of a subtle touch, which arguably befits the not entirely subtle novel she’s adapting here. And yet that touch may also have prevented Someday from being better than its source material, in a movie that starts off as an intriguing and well-observed coming-of-age drama, until it opts for the bedroom over the bigger picture.
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