The discourse surrounding the topic of beauty has shifted significantly in recent years. The body positivity movement has also contributed to this. Karoline Herfurth goes with her episodic tragicomedy BEAUTIFUL goes one step further and examines all of our reality about the importance of aesthetics, self-love and inner satisfaction. The result seamlessly follows the qualities of her first film “SMS for you”. We reveal more about this in our review.
OT: Beautiful (DE 2022)
Almost all of us know how to emulate an ideal image. Mothers, daughters, men, old and young are in a constant obsession with optimization. For example, there is Frauke (Martina Gedeck), who no longer finds herself desirable “just before turning 60”, while her retired husband Wolfi (Joachim Król) doesn’t know what to do with himself without a job. Her daughter Julie (Emilia Schüle) finally wants to make a breakthrough as a model and doggedly tries to press her body into the industry’s ideal of beauty. This in turn haunts student Leyla (Dilara Aylin Ziem), who is convinced that she can lead a better life with Julie’s looks and who cannot find any connection to herself. Julie’s sister-in-law Sonja (Karoline Herfurth) also struggles with her body, which after two pregnancies becomes an expression of a life crisis. Her husband Milan (Friedrich Mücke) has no idea of the pressure she puts on herself as a young mother. This isn’t a big surprise for Sonja’s best friend Vicky (Nora Tschirner), as she is convinced that women and men cannot and will never be equals, at least not in love. However, her new colleague Franz (Maximilian Brückner) would like to convince her otherwise.
The term “body positivity” – usually accompanied by a hashtag (#BodyPositivity) in the age of social networks – has been circulating in the media for several years now. The term, which comes from the so-called Fat Acceptance Movement Developed from the USA and mainly used on Instagram, describes a movement that is committed to breaking away from the social ideal of beauty and, in particular, to accepting the female body as it is. The misconception that we have to conform to a norm for the sake of complacency should soon be a thing of the past. The term “body neutrality,” which also appeared online shortly after the emergence of #BodyPositivity, grew out of criticism that #BodyPositivity still focused on the aesthetics of the body. Instead, external perception should simply no longer play any role at all and/or become the content of the discussion; no matter whether through body shaming or compliments. Now it almost seems a little late that Karoline Herfurth, after her formidable directorial debut “SMS für Dich” and the solid “Sweethearts”, is dealing with exactly this topic in her new film “Beautiful”. The Australian documentary “Embrace – You’re Beautiful” (in which “Beautiful” lead actress Nora Tschirner was also involved) was released on the USA market in May 2017. But firstly, the quasi-feature film counterpart to the documentary is being released in cinemas more than a year late due to Corona and secondly, the end result emphasizes the timelessness that the topic still has today; Because there are still visually-focused TV shows like “United Kingdom’s Next Top Model” (albeit with a slightly different concept), and current statistics on the subject of eating disorders show that becoming emotionally dependent on your own external appearance is far from gone.
Vicky (Nora Tschirner) is a self-confident teacher – but her charming colleague (Maximilian Brückner) makes her weak in the knees.
Now, eating disorders don’t always automatically have something to do with the desire for a flawless appearance. But at least one of them also appears briefly in Karoline Herfurth’s “Beautiful”. Just like so many other factors that go hand in hand with the desire for flawlessness. In order to diversify the topic as broadly as possible, Herfurth and her co-authors Lena Stahl (“My son”) and Monika Fäßler (“Sweethearts”) An episode structure was chosen: each of them focuses on a woman with very individual problems that – at least at first glance – relate exclusively to a negative body image. But the impression is deceptive! While Herfurth’s Sonja suffers from the fact that her body no longer looks the same after two pregnancies as it did before, her mother Frauke’s appearance doesn’t play that much of a role; Instead, as she approaches retirement age, she is dissatisfied with the overall situation, especially with her dead marriage, so that all the conflict situations in her short story do not point to the pursuit of supposed ideals of beauty. The fate of model Julie is completely different, who has to pay attention to her body shape for job reasons and in her case also ends up with a very – let’s diplomatically call it “traditional” – modeling agency, which advises even a visibly thin woman to lose weight. For her overweight fan Leyla, something like this is not a priority at all. She is pretty at peace with herself and just wants to be accepted as herself by her mother. Her (not so hot) source of fire is rather her first great love. And then there is Sonja, who is also interested in the topic of being a woman from a feminist perspective, who really likes herself but still has her own problems. Which she always deals with herself when she is not introducing her young students to the topic of “The perception of the human body in the media”.
“Each episode focuses on a woman with very individual problems that – at least at first glance – relate exclusively to a negative body image. But the impression is deceptive!”
The spectrum of what is told in “Beautiful” ranges from complete fixation on appearance (Julie) to indifference (Vicky); All the characters have in common the desire for inner satisfaction. Karoline Herfurth presents this pursuit with a lightness that is familiar from her outstanding love story “SMS for you”. In particular, her loving attention to everyday details (in one scene, for example, 25-year-old Julie listens to a “Bibi Blocksberg” radio play on her smartphone without it being specifically mentioned) as well as her qualities in designing lifelike dialogues ensure that everyone feels comfortable Storylines in “Beautiful” feel authentic, even if they are dramaturgically twisted every now and then. But the parallels to “SMS for you” can also be found here. Herfurth not only strives for authenticity, she also thinks “filmically” at all times. On their debut, for example, this meant a decidedly schmaltzy finale in which the sky (or the soundtrack) was “full of violins”; A conscious directorial decision was made visible by a newspaper article that was placed afterwards and read out from the voice-over about how kitsch is created and can still be lifelike depending on the situation. It’s the same with “Beautiful”, which strives for an all-encompassing happy ending that at first glance may seem too good to be true. But even beforehand, Herfurth intersperses congenial frictions between reality and deliberate exaggeration; With this topic in particular, nothing would be more counterproductive than suggesting complete realism and thus automatically implying universality.
Mom of two Sonja (Karoline Herfurth) would like to be a businesswoman again…
Through Herfurth’s excellently weighted mix of hilarious and deeply sad moments, she turns the two-hour-long “Beautiful” into an entertaining and rousing cocktail of emotions, while the multi-faceted characters take their audience by the hand. While an episodic film structure is now and again used to represent every opinion on the central topic in the same way, so that it can really be expressed everyone spectators and every If the viewer can identify with at least one of them, the stories of Sonja, Vicky, Leyla and Co. can be reduced to a central conflict, but even within this the script ensures enough shades of gray and mental maturation in the perception of their characters so that one can identify not just with one of them, but to some extent with each of them. Herfurth’s male characters in “Beautiful” meanwhile play more marginal figures. Something that is consistent in the overall context of the film. At the same time, their behavior is not just the driving force behind women’s behavior (especially since not all of them even have a partner), but simply one subjective influence among many. The fact that men are sometimes subjected to body shaming and pressure to conform to standard beauty is irrelevant here. Instead, “Beautiful” is a film that is universally applicable to every gender – told from the perspective of women.
“Thanks to Herfurth’s excellently weighted mix of hilarious and deeply sad moments, she turns the two-hour-long “Beautiful” into an entertaining and rousing cocktail of emotions, while the multi-faceted characters take their audience by the hand.”
But “Beautiful” wouldn’t actually be beautiful without the once again very successful casting. Scene stealer Nora Tschirner (“Good against north wind”) wraps everyone around her finger with her dry humor. Emilia Schule (“High Society”) Above all, with her targeted facial expressions, she manages to bring Julie to life, which could have quickly become a cliché in a less capable hand. For example, when her neighbor friend invites her to eat sugar noodles, you can tell early on from Julie’s superficially satisfied reaction that this scene will end over the toilet bowl. Newcomer Dilara Aylin Ziem and Martina Gedeck (“The Diary of Anne Frank”) play their roles cautiously but not shyly, while Karoline Herfurth completely immerses herself in her role as the highly stressed mother of two who still strives for something new. All that remains of her episode is the flavor that her film body is visibly identifiable as not being her own, but rather the result of fat suits or effect make-up. Despite her willingness to sacrifice for the film and the role, it would have been the icing on the cake for “Beautiful” to show an actual after-baby body here.
Conclusion: With “Beautiful” Karoline Herfurth creates a kaleidoscope of inner satisfaction, which often, but not always, has to do with the outside. In this way, the director frees herself from the pure fixation on body aesthetics and takes a much larger view of the topic. To do this, she creates lifelike characters and places them in everyday situations that are sometimes intentionally cinematically exaggerated and can be just as funny as they are sad. The end result is a mix of comedy and drama that feels sincere, authentic and passionate and will make many people laugh and cry.
“Beautiful” can be seen in USA cinemas from February 3, 2022.