24 Weeks review: A brave, important, emotionally charged drama from Germany. A Berlinale highlight featuring a stand-out performance by home-grown actress Julia Jentsch.
24 Weeks review by Paul Heath at the Berlin Film Festival, 2016. Nothing can quite prepare you for what you witness in 24 Weeks, the new film from Germany and in-competition film at this year’s Berlinale; it is truly one of the most emotional experiences I’ve every had in a movie theatre.
Anne Zohra Berrached‘s film, from a screenplay she co-wrote with Carl Gerber, revolves around two central characters; stand-up comedienne Astrid (Julia Jentsch), and her manager/ boyfriend Markus (Bjarne Mädel). The couple are living together, have a healthy nine-year old daughter, and both of their careers are looking up. Astrid is also pregnant with their second child and, when they learn that the child will almost certainly be born with a disability, must make choices. Optimism initially enters both of their minds with both confident that they will able to balance looking after a disabled child, along with their nine-year-old, and still work together on Astrid’s blossoming career. However, as the pregnancy continues, it becomes clear that this may not be the case with the couple, and indeed the rest of her family, arguing over the possibilities and the uncertainties. With her job guaranteeing that any choice will be acted out and scrutinised in the public eye, Astrid realises that her choice over her future can only be made by her, and her alone.
The powerful nature of Berrached’s second feature creeps upon you gradually as this couple’s world starts to unravel. While the skillful filmmaker’s story is a slow-burner, it is relentless in its execution; a foreboding ticking time-bomb thrust in front of the viewer to feel every ounce of pain that this poor couple go through on screen. It is almost unbearable in places, a million questions rushing through one’s head as we watch.
The two leads are virtually flawless, though Jentsch dominates as the tortured Astrid, a character who not only has to undergo this ordeal from a personal point-of-view, but also with the public watching. We feel every bit of her pain, and this is all largely down to Jentsch’s skilled, unflinching performance; an almost cert for her second Silver Bear for Best Actress – yes, we’re calling it now.
Cinematographer Friede Clausz largely uses handheld camerawork to further the documentary look to the film, always never shying away from the drama. Berrached and Gerber’s script is equally as uncompromising; courageous, important and controversial in equal measure.
As I said at the top of the review, I have never felt so affected by a film of this kind – a feeling felt by most of a packed Berlinale Palast audience where a silence following the final frames erupted into rapturous applause after its first showing.
Brave, realistic and absolutely necessary.
24 Weeks review (24 Wochen) by Paul Heath at the Berline Film festival, 2016.