The review of Die Theorie von allem, a German film in competition at the 80th Venice Film Festival where a classic cinema aesthetic attempts to give life to a plot on a very current topic such as the multiverse. The result is a disappointing operation, incapable of realizing the ambitious premises.
There is a bit of the first Hitchcock and of that German expressionism that forged monsters and fears in the spaces of an evocative and penetrating black and white in The theory of everything (The Theory of Everything). But upon closer inspection, in the film presented in competition at the 80th edition of the Venice Film Festival, the spirit of The flame of sin and his frosted glass, of classic noir, of Reed and his The third man and of the most typical mountain films (the so-called Heimatfilm) of classical German cinema.
As we will point out in this review of The Theory of Everything, each cinematic reference becomes a manifesto of a historical archive to be recovered to narrate a very current topic such as that of the multiverse. An interesting choice, especially if we consider the Seventh Art as a parasite of the visual capable of resisting the ambitious cognitive omnipotence of the gaze. A fracture between seeing and knowing that in the context of alienating, multiple, and co-existing existences, the work of the former director of photography Timm Kroeger attempts to sharpen with value of intent, but weakness of concreteness. An opportunity half-successful and lost in the deep meanders of a cave at the foot of the icy Swiss mountains.
The theory of everything: la trama
1962, Johannes is a young physics doctoral student called to participate in a conference held in a hotel in the Swiss Alps. The wait, especially that of the protagonist, is all about the revolutionary intervention of an Iranian scientist on the topic of quantum mechanics, but he and his chatter “theory of everything” are slow to make themselves seen. While the guests try to pass the time with elegant dinners and ski trips, Johannes meets the pianist Karin, a mysterious woman who seems to know him very well. When a German physicist is found dead, an unusual cloud formation appears in the sky. Karin disappears without a trace. Johannes begins to believe that the solution to all these puzzles may be hidden in the depths of the mountain.
Perfect gears in imperfect narrative machines
In a continuous struggle between what is seen but not understood, The theory of everything attempts to undermine the structures by comparing a complex and at times elusive theme such as that of multiverse, with a classical plot both in the narrative setting and in the visual aesthetics. But something about this theoretically cutting-edge mechanism isn’t working. The two gears do not fit together, ending up weakening any ambitious premise. Supported by a black and white that is as aesthetically sublime as it is unconsciously destabilizing, the visual sector loses balance, thrown into the precipice both by the hands of a narrative unprepared to stand up to it, and by that latent aspiration to a bizarre complexity – but understandable to all – soon bordering on a simplistic and incomplete rendering.
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No assembly game ready to join and let overlapping temporal universes coexist in Die Theorie von allem; nor a dynamic direction, ready to shake and disorientate its audience within an environment prisoner of a routine identical to itself. The multiverse of Timm Kröger’s film is left within the confines of theory, of the verbal scope of a conceptual suggestion that struggles to incorporate itself into a visual and therefore credible element. The continuous procrastination of the meeting/clash of the various universes, if initially it fits perfectly into that attractive and seductive game that welcomes the spectator within this cerebral system, in the long run ends up repelling its audience, overwhelming it with many hypotheses and few concreteness, questions and few answers.
Turning points are babbles of thoughts and ideas that arise but don’t always materialize. The director tries to provoke such disturbance in the spectator as to insert him into the most intrinsic meanders of the story, forcing him to look for a lack of reaction or, better to say, a “non-action”. By letting the characters move on the screen, speak, scrutinize hidden truths that are deliberately delayed in their revelation, The Theory of Everything blocks its audience in its role as passive observer, limited to watching, understanding, putting together the pieces of a work that would like to say, emanate, share, but which ends up remaining cold, like that blanket of snow that envelops everything and immerses, freezing souls.
Facts not words
It is not intended to be a labyrinthine work, The theory of everything. By entrusting its strength to a narrative line that is little intertwined with that of other, possible, parallel ones, it places its strength both on a suggestive visual system, from other times, and on a plot that tries to dress itself in simplicity, to become burdened with theories, intuitions and few certainties. The intentions in Kröger’s work can be intuited, without truly understanding and assimilating them, creating an unbridgeable distance between himself and his spectators. And that sublime and expressionistic struggle of a black and white that takes, recovers and reflects, without gray scales, the obsessions, fears and broken hopes of its protagonist can do nothing; and even less can the minimalist performance, played in subtraction and never out of focus, as the young doctoral student Johannes; seeking that sublime experience à la Dark, The theory of everything it becomes an essay and treatise on quantum physics, forgetting to completely materialize in visual work, cinematographic art, a window on nightmares and tensions, fears and deceptions.
It is an aesthetically impeccable dress, The theory of everything, but entrusted to an outsized body that persists in making it its own, in wearing it, with the risk of fraying and destroying it. And the dress of The Theory of Everythingin fact, it broke, its hinge gave way, leaving room for holes, shortcomings, loosening and rejecting lucubrations, incapable of filling the gaps, mending the fractures.
We conclude this review of Die theorie von allem by underlining how sometimes a visually impactful approach fails to fill a narrative that is all too rooted in the complexity of its own ambitious theories. Tim Kröger’s is a work that forgets to materialize its aspirations in turning points and narrative epilogues. It’s a shame, because the desire to deal with a current topic such as the multiverse with a classic narrative could have had a strong impact and great spectator interest.
Because we like it
- Black and white photography.
- The constant references to classic cinema.
- Jan Bülow’s performance.
- Clinging to a bizarre narrative, made up of theories and little substance.
- A frayed plot that ends up never really being resolved.
- Not very courageous direction.