A summer holiday with the family on the Schlei, a region for sailors in the far north of Germany where the country is flat and the wind blows heavily across the sea – this was the plan for a couple of easy days. However, from the very first moment in Summer 04 (Sommer 04 an der Schlei) we find a constant irritation between the generations : André (Peter Davor) and Miriam (Martina Gedeck), the parents, handle the varying moods of their son Nils (Lucas Kotaranin) in a sympathetic way, because of their liberal attitudes. They are even open to Nils’ younger girlfriend, Livia (Svea Lohde), going off to sail with an American stranger, Bill (Robert Seeliger). He might cause trouble, but maybe he just opens up a valve in the relationship? Nothing is obvious in the new film from German director Stefan Krohmer, who is again working with his favorite screenwriter Daniel Nocke, with whom he collaborated on his feature debut They’ve got Knut (Sie haben Knut). Nothing that seems certain is unchangeable. Bill, the intruder, could be the protagonist of a Chabrol thriller. He is amiable, but the parents view him as too friendly to the point of disruption. His interest in the twelve- year-old Livia could be of a perverse nature, and it is this suspicion that sets Miriam in motion. At night, which is filmed as if it were a grey day, she confronts him with her thoughts. But the thriller elements of Summer 04 are never realized. Krohmer prefers scenes that remain ambivalent, and he seeks out the situations which are hidden between dramatic cuts.
Windows on Monday (Montag kommen die Fenster), also shown at the Viennale, is another strong sign of a new, self-assured German cinema. Whereas in Summer 04 a stranger is needed to open up the inner dynamics of a family to make its cracks visible – one is reminded of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous short-story The Crack-up – in Ulrich Köhler’s film, a young woman, Nina (Isabella Menke), leaves her husband Frieder (Hans-Jochen Wagner) without warning. “I won’t come back,” she tells him in a prosaic way, although they just bought a new house – the windows are of course still missing. She visits her younger brother in the Harz, then moves on to stroll through a hotel which Köhler establishes with a wonderful shot. In a different way than Krohmer, who always seems to focus on obscure behavior and opaque dialogue, here the malaise of the heroine is transferred to visual space. The hotel becomes a space of possibilities. In an almost Antonioniesque fashion, Köhler explores architecture as an emotional light and sound box.
In one scene Nina enters an indoor tennis court – where the once famous tennis player Ilie Nastase is giving a charity performance – but for the spectator it is impossible to grasp the whole situation : it seems as if she has crossed the border into an almost surreal space. Nina does not look for any erotic sensation, indeed, she does not seem to have any goal at all, and just follows her appetite for a change. Her getaway is the attempt to leave her former identity behind. When she tells her brother that she could pick up any child from the kindergarten, she makes clear that from a specific perspective all certainties are up for grabs. This is also the perspective of the film. The indifference of Nina – Isabella Menke is great in slouching – is an effect of her refusal to go on with her life but not knowing where to start a new one. It is this interval between two circumstances that Windows on Monday explores. The other characters – her brother, who does not stop arguing with his girlfriend; Nastase, who made a living of being a nostalgic has-been; and, finally, Frieder, who is not willing to take the risk of being alone – are far more grounded.
Köhler resists any psychological explanations. However, he is reluctantly more concerned with the question of why certain concepts of domesticity no longer function. The transitory space of the hotel is the perfect expression of Nina’s homelessness. In Summer 04, Miriam’s realisation of her alienation still needs a subject. But Krohmer is also very cautious, leaving his characters’ motivations unclear. Even in the most unbelievable moments they stay calm, even cold: They do not show their feelings, because they have learned to restrict themselves. One can read their self-assurance in every gesture, though Krohmer also shows them in a way that makes you see that they still might have a hard time going on with their lives.