"According to the Plan": It Runs in the Family By Margarita Chapatte

in 17th Cottbus Festival of East European Cinema

by Margarita Chapatte Lopez

According to the Plan (Frei nach Plan) is the latest film by Franziska Meletzky, a German director, born in Leipzig in 1973. Her first film, Wanted! (Nachbarinnen) explored the relationships between its main characters, much as this second one does.

According to the Plan is a family portrait with a feminine touch, evident in the construction of its four protagonists. Anne (Dagmar Manzel), Iris (Corinna Harfouch) and Marianne (Kristen Block) are three sisters with completely different lives, who decide to meet at their family home in order to celebrate the birthday of their mother, Silvia (Christine Schorn). Anne is the only of the sisters to have left their hometown, to start a music career. Marianne is the happiest of them, at least in theory: She’s married, with a son and a job. Iris has stayed at home taking care of everything since the housekeeper fell ill, devoting herself entirely to her alcoholic mum and forgoing a life of her own. And into the world of these female characters comes a man — their father, who arrives in the company of a girlfriend much younger than his daughters, providing the film with a peculiar streak of humor.

Once Anne returns home, the audience learns her life hasn’t been a bed of roses. Despite her reputation as the family’s black sheep, she still needs their help. We also discover Marianne’s marriage isn’t what it seems, and that Iris’ life has no direction at all. Silvia, who should be the queen of her own birthday party, obviously doesn’t count in it, so she runs back to the bottle, her favorite hobby. As the sisters reunite, preparing for their mother’s celebration, their half-spoken secrets and lies can’t help but surface, slowly turning a pleasant comedy of manners in an idyllic countryside setting into a family melodrama spiced with sarcasm.

The actresses’ strong performances have to be highlighted in this film, as they are little gems, not easy to forget. The director knows perfectly well how to treat her characters and evidently controls the feminine sphere in order to imbue her women with a strong sense of truth and relevance.

Although the film skirts a number of familiar themes (family reunions have certainly served as the basis for cinema in the past), its originality lies in the characters’ admirable capacity to react to some unexpected turns of the plot. According to the Plan can be defined as a comedy with a touch of melodrama, or as a melodrama with a touch of comedy: Both descriptions are entirely suitable.

It can be true that a female perspective better understands the complicity between the three sisters against everyday disasters, and the way they forgive each other as well: The good is that they are together against the world, as it has clearly been indicated in the film from the first frames. But more importantly, they are the ones who succeed in getting along, rather than the men in their world.

I believe According to the Plan will find favor with audiences when it’s released commercially in Europe. The film has already received the Audience Award at the Leipzig Film Festival, and in Shanghai, Christine Schorn was honored with the festival’s Best Actress award — though I personally feel all the actresses deserved a share of the recognition.