Reviews

THIRTY (Dreissig): (Un)Comfortably Numb

From the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Ioanna reviews a film about the millennial experience in Berlin.

When the clock strikes twelve and a new day begins, one might feel time’s inescapable presence. As the seconds pile up, the thread of life unravels—when it will snap? Nobody knows; not even (or especially) us.

Dreissig (2019) – source: Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin (DFFB)

When the clock strikes twelve, from time to time we feel alone. Loneliness is the cornerstone of the millennial experience, and even if that might presuppose our familiarity with it, perhaps we dread it more than most. Countless artists have shared their experiences of being alienated and made an attempt to explain the reasons why. Anton Chekhov, for instance, once wrote in his play The Three Sisters: “however you might philosophize about it, loneliness is a terrible thing, my dear fellow […] Although in reality, of course, it’s absolutely of no importance!” Chekhov’s take on loneliness, therefore, touches upon the sheer reality of it, but also upon its meaninglessness.

Notably, Simona Kostova’s feature debut Dreissig (Thirty) is a film that’s greatly influenced by Chekhov’s The Three Sisters, without completely adopting its nihilistic views. As we follow Övünç, (Övünç Güvenisik) Raha, (Raha Emami Khansari) Pascal, (Pascal Houdus) Kara, (Kara Schröder) and Henner (Henner Borchers) during a 24-hour time span that also happens to be Övünç’s birthday, we become bystanders of their inexplicable heartache.

We recognize this striking pain from the very first shot. Övünç wakes up, but lingers there for a few moments until he is forced to answer his cellphone. Birthday plans are made, but Övünç is clearly not in a birthday mood. He ends the conversation to do some writing, but he waters his plant instead; he’s giving life to another entity as he realizes that he has stepped foot over the threshold of another decade. Thirty and lonely; thirty and numb. It’s all perfectly depicted through Güvenisik’s performance.

Dreissig (2019) – source: Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin (DFFB)

We see this very concept in Kara’s speech wherein she admits that she’s exhausted by her awareness of her isolation:

Lately it happens to me all the time that I wake up and don’t know what I’m alive for. I wake up and I think to myself: why should I get up? There is no reason for getting up. Also, no one is interested if I get up or not.

Living a hip life in Berlin, Kara and the others are facing the weight of freedom as they feel that there’s no time to accomplish everything that’s on their socially constructed life-list. One might even argue that they’re too detached from reality most of the time to hold themselves together and venture into their lives.

In that regard, Kostova follows in the footsteps of Chekhov; but even if she presents the overwhelming presence of existential dread, she doesn’t revel in life’s meaninglessness. Instead, she argues that our sole defense from this threat is human contact. After all, hour after hour, every member of the gang suffers, but they always move forward together as a whole. Perhaps this is why Kara also adds:

And then I lay there for a while and all of a sudden I get overwhelmed by a feeling of great hope that it’s all gonna be fine. Such a mighty positive feeling.

This vacillation between despair and hope described here verbally is also established visually with sudden changes from light to darkness and vice versa. For example, there’s the scene with Övünç’s birthday cake: we start with a stark black screen as his friends gradually light up the thirty candles. Moment’s later, following western customs, Övünç blows away the candles, and we’re left once again in an inconsolable darkness. This, along with the club scene whose epileptic lights flash the crowd and bring to the fore chaos, leaves the characters, and therefore us, facing an abyss utterly unprotected except from when they look for help from someone else.

Of course, one might question the characters’ ability to be truly sympathetic to one another seeing that they’re all devoid of emotion most of the time. Here we must take into consideration Kostova’s viewpoint, who in an interview for Medium, asserted: “That’s life and we cannot heal us from it, we could only continue living and try to find a way to live with our inner lacks.” For Kostova, therefore, there’s no easy answer to our dealing with our inner void; there’s only exploration and the courage to go through with it.

It might as well be true that all we’re left with is emptiness, but, for Kostova, the least we can do is understand those close to us and pick them up every time they fall in a crowded space with flashing lights.

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