Wrapped in her lover’s arms on a beautiful summer evening, a woman wonders out loud about the details of the day they met: What if things had happened differently, even by moments? What if she hadn’t been in the right place at the right time? What if fate hadn’t intervered?
These are questions asked in many romantic films, but for the heroine of Hendrik Handloegten’s 2011 film, Summer Window, presented at the Northwest Film Center’s Kinofest PDX, the answers are more sinister: Meeting the love of her life coincides with a terrible tragedy.
German actress Nina Hoss gives a charismatic and understated performance as Juliane, a half-Finnish translator from Berlin who, while traveling with her boyfriend, August (Mark Waschke), wakes one morning returned to her recent past—a handful of months before she ever met him.
This happens very quickly, giving the impression that her happiness with August was all too brief—something Juliane herself quickly begins to feel as she transitions from summer back to harsh winter, a literal sign that her life was nowhere near as good before he came along.
She relives her days at work and her conversations with her best friend, Emily (Fritzi
Haberlandt), a single mother caught in an endless cycle of terrible boyfriends. Juliane begins to believe she is being punished, or that she’d “done something wrong the first time around,” an idea she indirectly confesses to Emily’s 7-year-old son, Otto (Lasse Stadelmann). What should she do differently? What should she do the same, to ensure she finds her way to August again?
Summer Window is not the most strikingly original film. Many of the ideas and devices seem like a mash-up of things we’ve seen before, like a darker version of Sliding Doors. But the story is captivatingly told and explores many compelling themes. The idea that both the very bad and the very good things in life happen for a reason is not new, but it’s rarely presented in such an optimistic light.
In one brilliantly written sequence, Juliane’s love letter to August is juxtaposed with a scene of her calmly describing to her previous boyfriend of nine years, Phillip (Lars Eidinger), the chain of events that ends their relationship. Unaware that these are things she’s experienced, Phillip begins to add to her description. He hasn’t seen their future, but he knows their past, and the patterns they have fallen into.
But in the context of the film, both the patterns of our lives and the moments we finally break them feel inevitable, and that’s not a bad thing. The moment when Juliane decides she must do everything the same, even the smallest details of her life, in order to meet August again never once feels like the wrong or easy choice, like it might in other films with a similar premise. It feels decidedly romantic.
Ultimately, it is the romance and the atmosphere that make Summer Window unique. Even more than the idyllic and passionate scenes of her relationship with August, the scenes between Hoss and Stadelmann are the heart of the story; Stadelmann gives the film a bittersweet and magical touch as only a child can do.
Despite the grand nature of the premise, Summer Window is a quiet film filled with gorgeous shots and memorable dialogue, even at moments that might feel rushed or anticlimactic. Buoyed by terrific performances and an ending that feels justly earned, Summer Window is a sharp, elegant film that explores one woman’s journey to deserve the love she’s found.
Based on an Austrian novel from the 1960s, it is Handloegten’s first feature since 2003. It was nominated for three German film awards and is among the richest and best work from a country whose contribution to the film world is sometimes overlooked. The film is presented as one of seven selections in the center’s Kinofest PDX, which features modern German cinema.
“The Northwest Film Center is really happy to partner up with Zeitgeist Northwest for another year to present this amazing collection of new German cinema,” said Jessica Lyness, the center’s PR and marketing director. “Most of these films are critically acclaimed and have won multiple festival awards, and we’re happy to bring them to audiences by screening them at the Whitsell Auditorium.”
Lyness also noted that several of the selections will be introduced by Portland State professors. Steven Fuller will introduce the film Barbara; Sandra Freels, PSU director of world languages and literatures, will introduce the film Baikonur; and Daniel Pearson will introduce the film Combat Girls.
Following the Saturday screening of Summer Window, there will be a reception in the sculpture garden of the Portland Art Museum. No lover of film or culture will regret attending.