Hans Weingartner, the acclaimed director of The Edukators, returns with his third feature Hut in the Woods, a whirlwind journey into one man’s spiralling decent into madness and his inventive attempts to find redemption.
Martin (Peter Schneider) was a gifted mathematician, living in Berlin with a promising career and a steady girlfriend. However, when he returns from a six month spell in a psychiatric unit he finds he’s lost it all, with his girlfriend having moved on and the job saved for him by his former employers rescinded due to concerns over his ability to cope under pressure.
He finds himself confined to a council flat where his lack of employment, moral support and sense of purpose turns him to drink – soon resulting in him being evicted and left to roam the cold, grey, winter streets of Berlin. During this period of rambling isolation his path crosses with Victor, a young Ukrainian boy who’s recently become orphaned after his mother overdoses. The two soon strike up a mutually beneficial partnership, with each becoming the supportive pillar which holds the other up through this deeply harrowing time.
When the hardships of living rough in the city begins to get to too much for the pair, they head for the country where they go back to nature and create their own idyllic home within a secluded area of an isolated forest. However, this serene existence was never going to last forever and as Martin begins to saviour his new found happiness, fate once again transpires against him with devastating consequences.
After a brief exposition, the film’s opening act is set entire around the desolate beauty of a heavily urbanised Berlin, with bleak cement high-rises towering up and becoming camouflaged against the equally sombre winter sky. Creating a claustrophobic feeling of imprisonment and despair, the film’s depressing backdrop is only amplified by Weingartner’s direction, using the camera to immerse us into Martin’s rapid decline into madness through a collection of uncomfortably extreme close ups and shaky hand held shots (exacerbating Martin’s mental instability). Over-the-shoulder shots also induce an awkwardly perverse first person perspective on a par with peering too curiously at a stranger in the streets disfigurement – grossly inappropriate but unavoidable and fully intended by the director.
The relationship between Martin and Viktor is a peculiar one; it could so easily have become an overly schmaltzy father and son partnership but instead feels more like two kindred spirits – lost souls surviving together against adversity despite the obstacles of language and a hefty age difference. Yet somehow all the hard work which goes into creating this unique coupling becomes undone in the film’s final act where a misguided revelation exposes there odd predicament as nothing more than a lazy dramatic tool to add some unnecessary intrigue to an otherwise emotionally engrossing double act.
Hut in the Woods is at times a sympathetic insight into how easily you can lose everything, whilst also acting as an empathetic portrayal of the crippling and destabilising effects of mental illness. It’s a shame then that this expose of the turbulent lives of those living with such an ailment, as well as the hardships of homelessness, feels obliged to sensationalise it’s topic through a seemingly tacked on twist and pointless love story. When focusing on the difficulties of human survival when ostracised from society Hut in the Woods is a thoroughly moving social commentary on the state of European society, however its lacklustre and contrived attempts to use Martins mental illness as a narrative device to add gravitas to this slow paced drama leaves the audience feeling cheated and resentful for the emotional hard work they commit to the film’s harrowing middle act.
Hut in the Woods is a remarkable story spoiled by the need to create a more cinematic experience. Those looking for more action from this gritty experience will no doubt have lost interest in the story by the time it turns into the lacklustre thriller its attempting to become whilst sadly those engaged in its harrowing tale will become deeply disappointed by how it develops – a miss-hit that sadly leaves an inescapable bad taste.
Director: Hans Weingartner
Cast: Peter Schneider, Timur Massold, Henrike von Kuick, Julia Jentsch
Runtime: 109 min