The present-day dramedy has built itself around the millennial twenty something year old girl/woman, depicted in both arthouse film and television as the lost wanderer drowning in a jobless limbo of sexual experimentation and hapless gambles. This ripening staple, drawn by a surge of female writer/directors, relentlessly counteracts what is expected of her whilst coming to terms with the existential realities of adulthood. It’s the perfect recipe for comedy, tragedy and relatability. Here we watch it channelled through the androgynous Ana over the summer of 2015, in Rachel Lang’s impressive debut feature Baden Baden.
The film opens on the rain soaked silver Porsche Panamera that Ana drives for the production company she has started working for over the summer. Reprimanded for her lateness in chauffeuring leading actress Lois (Kate Moran) to set, Ana admits that she “got lost”. Framed by the open car door we witness the towering distinctively gruff male crew member abusively ridiculing Ana for her incompetence. Ana quits. She heads back to her home town of Strasbourg, taking the company Porsche on a joyride with her, to live with grandmother’ Odette (Claude Gensac) and reconnect with the lovers of her past.
After a fall that puts Odette in hospital, Ana embarks on the task of installing a disabled shower in place of the bath tub, slyly jesting on the German Spa-town of Baden Baden, as a surprise for Odette’s return. Ana thrives in the role of grandchild, appearing most secure when she is taking care of Odette. The two bond over a shared dark humour that can only be acquired through profound closeness. At one point Ana tries to acquaint Odette to the modern picture frame digitally presented in an I pad, Odette counteracts by finding an internet photo of Ana’s naked breasts and laying it out by her hospital bed. As Odette’s wellbeing becomes Ana’s core motivation, there is pervading sense that she is clinging to a generation she does not belong to.
Beyond this endeavour Ana bounces between male lovers: a handsome and successful video artist ex-boyfriend named Boris (Olivier Chanreau) and occasional lover best friend named Simon (Swann Arloud), who both comment on Ana’s irresistible planeness. These two sexual partners stand in contrast to the amusingly droll home improvement store assistant Gregoire (Lazare Gousseau), who Ana enlists to help renovate the bathroom. Gregoire’s deadpan humour and Ana’s awkwardness comically jostle as they embark on the foolhardy task of fitting the shower themselves, affording slapstick scenes of botched DIY and drunken karaoke.
In these relationships too, there is a cloud of not belonging that relentlessly hangs over Ana. When hoisting Odette’s bath down the multiple flights of stairs in the high rise block of flats, Gregoire and Boris are staged either end while Ana moves symbolically back and forth between them. It’s one of many examples where Lang humorously delivers an otherwise bleak message on the reality of growing up.
Lang’s constantly reminding us that Ana is a signpost for a generation hinging two centuries resulting in a lack of stability and structure. There are many other visually striking set ups in the film that operate narratively and utilise geometrical lines. On one occasion Ana walks into a background of piled pipes in a home improvement depot, where Gregoire stands to the right. The dialogue progresses in this shot alone, with minimal movement, far off, as if a painting. These striking arrangements are an ongoing aesthetic within the film and example of Lang’s artistic lineage. Her father is a painter and sculptor and her sister an architect (both feature in the film as does Lang’s father’s art work), influences that are apparent in the exquisite compositions and motifs of strength in architecture that guides Ana through an otherwise unstable trajectory.
There’s a lot going on in this film. Its franticness mirrors the dizzying attempts to work out how and where we fit in the world. Every scene feels layered with abundant subtext and symbolism. It is a comedy but at the same time deeply tragic. Though what feels most exciting about Lang’s work is her tendency to break rules. Scenes are connected by surreal signals to an event, such as a close-up of ketchup being squirted and spun into continental eggs, chopped carrots and peas or waking dreams where characters walk naked in wilderness with no explanation. As in life, Lang lets us fester in mundanity only to be hurled into the confusion of activity by some unforeseen current.