Sandra Nettelbeck directs her episodic film WHAT DON’T KILL US the ups and downs in the lives of city dwellers as an endlessly melancholic kaleidoscope of sadness, anger, hope and confidence, brought to life by outstanding actors. We reveal more about this in our review.
The Plot Summary
Max (August Zirner) is a psychotherapist, but he is completely overwhelmed by the many problems of his patients. His two daughters are in the middle of puberty, his ex-wife (Barbara Auer) is planning a new life with a much younger man and his new dog is even more melancholy than the many people who tell him every day about everything that is bothering them. One day he meets Sophie (Johanna ter Steege). She tells him about her gambling addiction and he falls in love. Very slowly. But it’s not actually intended for a therapist to fall in love with his patient… Meanwhile, around him, the lives of many other people are sinking into chaos, all of which will sooner or later lead back to Max. Because only Max knows: What doesn’t kill her makes her stronger…
Movie explanation of the ending
He already played a small role in Sandra Nettelbeck’s successful film “Bella Martha”, which served as a template for the Hollywood production “Recipe for Falling in Love” with Catherine Zeta Jones, and now the therapist Maximilian in “What Doesn’t Kill Us” finally gets his own (and clearly larger) appearance. August Zirner (“Wackersdorf”) holds together an ensemble that includes Christian Berkel (“Elle”)Deborah Kaufman (“Dark”)Barbara Auer (“Transit”)Bjarne Mädel (“25 km/h”) and many other well-known and less well-known names. They all play souls lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday life who have to deal with big and very big problems – from a broken heart to the loss of a husband or partner to the impending dismissal, which, as strange as it may sound, can happen can result in an unwanted pregnancy. Sandra Nettelbeck (“Mr. Morgan’s Last Love”) has an outstanding instinct for adapting everyday topics to the screen and, in return, finding the special in the normal. “What doesn’t kill us” is another little stroke of genius in her CV so far, in which she once again demonstrates exactly this instinct.
Sophie (Johanna Ter Steege) and Max (August Zirner) are slowly getting closer in practice…
As is usual with most episodic films, in “What Doesn’t Kill Us” all the storylines converge on one person. In this case, the center is the psychotherapist Maximilian, who actually has enough problems of his own but is also an ideal anchor point for the various characters. Meanwhile, he is no longer the competent listener from “Bella Martha”. As soon as his patients leave the practice, he struggles with exactly the same problems for which he himself gives advice. Of course, “What Doesn’t Kill Us” has a melancholic, if not even sad, tone to it right from the start. And the fact that Nettelbeck once again filmed in her constantly cloudy hometown of Hamburg further underlines this melancholy. But where other films indulge in this melancholy, Nettelbeck, who also wrote the screenplay, breaks through the depressed mood again and again with biting situational comedy, which can be attributed primarily to the many complex characters and their sometimes even bizarre ones. There is no need for targeted punchlines or gags. Sometimes two characters look at each other meaningfully, other times someone just can’t find the right words to tell the other person that they’re in love – often it’s just the awkwardness of each one of them that is so genuine and so heartfelt is that it either makes you laugh or even brings you to tears.
From the zookeeper Hannes (Bjarne Mädel), who keeps an eye on his autistic work colleague Sunny (Jenny Shily) and quickly jumps into the breach when she is about to be fired, to the pilot Fritz (Oliver Broumis), who is afraid of flying because his long-time partner Robert is dying, to the siblings Mark (Christian Berkel) and Henriette (Victoria Mayer), who run a funeral home despite their severe hypochondria, combine all these stories that sooner or later come together with Max’s fate The tragedy of the circumstances and the irony of fate that goes with it – you never really know whether you should laugh or cry; a condition that “What Doesn’t Kill Us” could hardly describe better. But for Sandra Nettelbeck it’s not just about catering to the widest possible spectrum of emotions. Her film is primarily about communication and what happens when it fails (whether intentionally or not). Every single episode in “What Doesn’t Kill Us” is characterized by a lack of communication. The scenes in which there is deliberately no dialogue and just the very memorable music by Volker Bertelmann are the strongest (“The Color of the Horizon”) as well as the occasionally placed evergreens can stand on their own. And whenever we do talk to each other, it is Nettelbeck’s precisely formulated dialogues that allow us to look even deeper into the characters’ souls.
On the Elbe beach, Sunny (Jenny Schily) tells her work acquaintance Hannes (Bjarne Mädel) what she wants.
The ensemble of sometimes more and sometimes less well-known actors, led by August Zirner, performs fantastically without exception. Representing the variety of acting performances, three in particular should be mentioned: Bjarne Mädel as a zookeeper who is clumsy in love, of whom we would have liked to have seen a little more (even though his episode is actually just the right length), turns out to be more absolute Scene stealer when he brings out the tragedy of his character perfectly and spices it up with a good portion of dry humor. Christian Berkel and Victoria Mayer (“Out and Away”) As an almost symbiotic pair of siblings, they scratch a little bit of a caricature here and there, but they also fit harmoniously into the overall picture – here too, the following applies: their storyline conveys exactly what they are playing here. And August Zirner holds the character structure together as much as possible, but his psyche, which is also broken, gives the whole thing an instability that brings additional drive to the stories. In the end, the only question left is when it will all come crashing down, or how all these ailing souls will manage to maneuver their way out of this situation again. In this blurry gray-on-gray of everyday life, cameraman Michael Bertl finds (“Mr. Morgan’s Last Love”) always small details that make every character special, every action unique and every thought endearing. In the end, you are guaranteed to be able to identify with one of the many characters. And if not with the characters themselves, then at least with the fact that you imagine a situation so completely different to how it turns out in the end – perhaps the most beautiful directorial gimmick in “What Doesn’t Kill Us” is that Sandra Nettelbeck is reality and wishful thinking always radically opposed to each other.
Conclusion: “What Doesn’t Kill Us” is an emotional episodic film about fears, longings and helplessness – but also about how we can free ourselves from it using our own strength. Great actors, beautiful music and a backdrop that is picturesque in its desolation make Sandra Nettelbeck’s work an absolute must see.
“What Doesn’t Kill Us” can be seen in selected USA cinemas from November 15th.