Written and directed by Jordan Blady, an American poet living in Berlin hopes to win a prestigious grant while dealing with her former relationships, a rival poet, and her own penchant for stealing things. Starring: Dasha Nekrasova, Johannes Frick, Morgan Krantz, Nadine Dubois, Lena Reinhold and Moritz Vierboom.
One of the first things that you hear Charlie (Nekrasova) say is that she hates Americans, while being an American living in Germany, and it quite possibly tells you everything that you’re going to need to know about her. Charlie is a classic example of a narcissistic personality, she’s only ever thinking about herself and her needs, about stealing clothes, shoes, mints or basically just whatever she’s in the mood to take, including another woman’s boyfriend. Her life is functionally dysfunctional, she’s so focused on herself that all the things she’s doing to negatively affect others, don’t really occur to her. Perhaps the surprising thing is that for the fact that she’s a poet, her poetry seems to come fairly low down on her list of priorities, despite trying to make a living at it.
Nekrasova’s portrayal of Charlie is surprisingly captivating, despite her lack of empathy or redeemable qualities, there’s an interesting edge to her which could possibly be due to the possibility of her going too far or down a dark rabbit hole. The moments where she becomes emotional are difficult to decipher whether they’re unconvincing because they were intended to be as the character isn’t capable of genuine emotion or the actress just didn’t quite hit the right note. The other characters involved generally lack more fleshing out, particularly her roommate Remo (Frick) feels very one dimensional, a generic role of the gay roommate who has a non-gendered wardrobe, meets various guys and likes to go dancing. However, the exception to that is Reinhold’s Marianne, we only get brief moments of her but from what you see, it feels like she had a lot more to offer to add another layer to the film.
The writing captures Charlie’s narcissism well, her dialogue is endlessly self-serving, for the majority the only words she speaks not talking about herself are in disdain or disappointment. The direction then works hand in hand to capture her disinterest in most things, it isn’t trying to portray her as deep in thought or misunderstood, it reflects her apathy. However, it feels as though the cinematography could have been better, there are good locations and decent shots but the visual isn’t reaching its potential, granted some of that is choices made by the director, as it’s far from perfect. Undoubtedly it quickly sets the tone of its lead’s ambivalence and wandering existence, rejecting her roots but at the same time making no real effort to build a place for herself or acclimate to her new home, new being relative given she’s already lived in Germany for a year at the start of the film.
Putting the central focus of your film on a character such as this is a risky move, you’re taking away a possibility for an audience to relate or sympathise with them, which then requires adding in layers to compensate and balance it out but sadly, that doesn’t happen here. That strong singular focus on Charlie simply isn’t enough, it comes across as shallow. There is a moment in the film’s latter scenes where the script had the opportunity to take a genuinely dark turn and it’s disappointing to see that while it technically does so, it’s done in a very meek manner. The build up of Charlie’s life and her narcissistic personality provided a huge opportunity to show her potential for sociopathy, to really expose her faults in satisfying manner for its finale but it completely sidestepped that opportunity and provided something fairly weak instead. The film also leaves you with a fair amount of unanswered questions, by the time it reaches its final scenes, its style is so reflective of its lead, only focused on her and not the dire consequences that she’s left in her wake, again choosing the weaker option.
Softness of Bodies is a film that not everyone is going to get along with, focusing on an unsympathetic character with no strong direction or end game is a challenging feature to put together successfully. There is a quality to the film that’s beguiling but it lessens with time, its story is shallow and it turns away from any opportunity to add layers to its plot or expand the roles of the supporting cast to balance out its apathetic lead, resulting in something relatively one note and timid. It’s worth watching but sadly doesn’t provide for satisfying viewing, especially when you can so clearly see the paths not taken.