Lara (2019) is a sombre tale of unrealised dreams and ambitions, of a mother and son in conflict with themselves and with each other and of a society that tries to intervene in the midst of it all and often succeeds. Directed by Jan-Ole Gerster and starring German acting legend Corinna Harfouch, Lara, in just over an hour and a half, does what franchises cannot do in decades, it tells the beautiful and anguished story of a mother whose ambition dies and resurrects through her son so magnificently that the moods of us witnessing it shift just as smoothly as those of its protagonist, resulting in one of the most touching, heart-warming and heart-breaking films in recent memory.

What is such a powerful film in the first place couldn’t have chosen a more powerful way to start. Lara Jenkins, the divorced mother of Viktor Jenkins, turns sixty and is standing on a chair ready to jump out of a depressing cold Berlin flat when she is interrupted by policemen on official business, and her birthday starts.

She withdraws her whole bank balance and uses the money to buy all the remaining tickets to her son’s concert, which is happening that very same day and proceeds to give away the tickets, first to acquaintances and afterwards, to mere strangers. We soon figure out that Viktor and his mother aren’t exactly on the best of terms, since he seems to be doing anything he can to avoid her, and indeed, many others, but she eventually succeeds in contacting him and their encounter, just before Viktor’s concert, answers some of the films’ biggest questions up to that point while the rest get saved till later on.

Before we tackle the film’s themes and philosophies, it is almost a crime not to mention how beautiful it is from a technical perspective. Very few films can capture city life in the way Lara does, and even fewer films can capture the beauty and coldness of Berlin the same way.

Lara is at heart a ride of emotions and states of mind, but it is also a ride of beautiful shots, one after the other, captured through colourful lenses and some often unorthodox angles that are definitely experimental but highly effective. The masterful camera work is coupled with a moving soundtrack of mainly classical music that is at times lively and forceful and at others gloomy and blue.

Lara is a film about many things, it treats many themes both separately throughout the film and at once during some segments, at first, it feels like a tale about ageing, and the emptiness that comes with that, then it becomes a question of one’s conflict with society, how one perceives it and how one is perceived by it; at times, it’s a tale of abandonment, of loneliness, of unwanted solitude, and at other times, it’s the story of a son who puts his mother at a distance to stop her constant disapproval and possessiveness.

Lara is a film that can be interpreted differently by everyone who watches it, but I think, ultimately, one discovers that it is a film about an ambition that was so strong it died and kept looking for ways to manifest itself long after its demise, and found a way through a son, and then his composition became his mother’s, and so did people’s perception and opinion of it.

I watched Lara (2019, 96 minutes) with no expectations and to say that I was pleasantly surprised is a huge understatement. It takes a grip of its audience’s heart right at the start and refuses to let go till long after the credits roll. Haunting, mesmerizing, and infinitely beautiful. A tour de force.

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Director: Jan-Ole Gerster
Screenplay: Blaz Kutin
Dir. of Photography: Frank Griebe
Music: Arash Safaian
Editor: Isabel Meier
Art Director: K. D. Gruber
Producer: Marcos Kantis
Production: Schiwago Film GmbH
Coproduction: StudioCanal
Cast: Corinna Harfouch, Tom Schilling, Volkmar Kleinert, André Jung, Rainer Bock
Contact: Stephen Lan

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