One of the most intriguing titles screening at this year’s Fantasia Fest will definitely not be for everyone. But on some level, the surrealist drama Aloys certainly is. The film is a lovely comment on isolation and delusion that strikes a human chord in a truly memorable way. Even those who might be turned off by the kind of art house/foreign film trappings that run rampant throughout Aloys will find themselves taken with some of the most stunning cinematography and greatest composition of the year. Writer/director Tobias Nolle’s film indeed lends itself to one gorgeous shot after another and never quits while weaving its tale of one of the more telling aspects of the human condition.
In Aloys, Georg Friedrich plays the title character, a private detective whose father/business partner has just died, leaving him alone in both his professional and personal life. One night when out on a job, Aloys falls asleep on a bus and awakens to discover the camera he uses to record his work has been stolen. When the thief contacts him, he discovers that it is actually a woman living in the apartment below his named Vera (Tilde von Overbeck). Frustrated by her actions, Aloys remains intrigued as Vera introduces him to “phone walking,” which is the art of creating mental images and life to ordinary sounds.
Some people will be quick to dismiss Aloys as another pretentious art film with subtitles, and to some degree, their complaints will prove justified. The film adheres to many of the standard art house cliches, such as seemingly random characters from one scene turning up in an imagined sequence taking place in a forest and posed sheep staring straight at the film’s protagonist. Furthermore, the movie is so extremely isolating, it’s almost maddening, and tends to border on the nonsensical at times, much like the main character’s state of mind. Even during these moments, as well as the ones in which the story seems to get a bit disjointed, there’s a collection of moments which come along to make Aloys a compelling exercise.
All of that aside, it’s hard to write the film off for a variety of reasons, especially in the many moments of beauty and wonder. Aloys has such a quiet, melancholic tone, appropriately reminiscent of what the main character is going through, interspersed with true surrealist, fantasy moments that are so quick and subtle, yet always effective. The highlight of this is the imagined musical sequence in which Aloys imagines himself and Vera playing at a piano while various other figures from his everyday life dance and party in the background. It is during this moment that the film is at its most alive, showing the kind of joy and happiness Aloys could be capable of having. The film is careful in illustrating how the concept of phone walking begins to take Aloys over in ways which can only be described as emotionally damaging. The relationship he’s able to build with Vera through the use of phone walking is sweet, touching, sad, and surreal all at the same time. While this new way of living is a crutch, and a dangerous one for sure, there’s something certainly magical in the way the concept, his mind, and combined effects work side by side.
Friedrich proves a captivating screen presence without having to do much. His effectiveness at inhabiting this detective who lives by observing and essentially capturing the lives of others was truly spot on. Because of the nature of the role, the actor has to rely mainly on facial features to convey his emotions, and Friedrich succeeds, bringing his character’s torment and loneliness to the forefront. He’s aided well by von Overbeck, who provides the film’s light by making Vera a creature of free-spirited curiosity.
Admittedly, Aloys is a bit slow moving at first, as the story builds itself and Aloys as a character is properly introduced. If the movie’s flashes of inspired brilliance are over too soon, it’s more than all right since they last long enough to keep the audience entranced by the world Aloys has found himself in. Nolle’s comment on the importance of sound and its power to stimulate, inspire, and create may be one of the film’s more surprising ideologies. However, it’s the danger of living with fantasies and delusions instead of real life for so long that it BECOMES real life which makes Aloys as powerful as it is.