Love at Sea

SUMMER ’04
Running time 97 minutes
Written by Daniel Nocke
Directed by Stefan Krohmer
Starring Martina Gedeck, Peter Davor, Svea Lohde, Robert Seeliger

Stefan Krohmer’s Summer ’04, from a screenplay by Daniel Nocke, has been inaptly likened to Roman Polanski’s Knife in the Water (1962). Both movies spend some time on sailboats, but there is otherwise little resemblance between Mr. Polanski’s icily misanthropic effort and the warmly stirring romantic maelstrom of five multigenerational libidos let loose at a lakeside vacation site in this marvelous German film.

Mirjam (Martina Gedeck) and André (Peter Davor) have been married for 16 years, and seemingly enjoy a comfortably easygoing relationship. They are sharing Mirjam’s summer home with their 15-year-old son, Nils (Lucas Kotaranin) and his 12-year-old girlfriend, Livia (Svea Lohde). One day Nils returns home alone from a sailing date with Livia, and calmly explains that Livia has decided to go sailing with a grown-up German-American neighbor named Bill (Robert Seeliger). Mirjam finds it a bit strange that Livia should go off with a strange adult on his sailboat. After all, Livia has been entrusted to their care by Livia’s parents, who are vacationing in Mexico.

Still, when Bill brings Livia home in his car and is introduced to the family by Livia, Mirjam forgets her previous concerns, and is clearly intrigued by his youthful good looks. André is less impressed by Bill, with his effusive compliments for Livia, Nils and André himself. André, who has never stood on ceremony, pointedly asks Bill why he hasn’t had any compliments for Mirjam. Bill reacts to André’s hostility by humorously apologizing for his excessive politeness, which he has brought back from America as an acquired vice. Mirjam seems somewhat irritated with her husband’s rudeness towards Bill. Nils seems strangely impervious to all the tensions around him and spends most of his time looking at war videos of German strategy during World War I.

At this point, the narrative seems to be treading on dangerous ground with a Lolita-like intrigue entangling Livia, Mirjam and Bill, except that Livia does not dress or act provocatively beyond her age. In an earlier conversation, however, Mirjam and André agree that at times Livia seems more sophisticated and grown-up than Nils, despite his being three years older. As if to confuse or delay the inexorable progression of the narrative, Mirjam enjoys a very carefree sexual intimacy with André that night. But the next day, when Nils comes home alone again with the same explanation as before, of Livia staying with Bill, Mirjam springs into action and drives off to bring Livia home. Nils keeps looking at his war videos.

When Mirjam drives up to Bill’s still unfinished villa, she does not know what she will find. Neither Bill nor Livia have answered the phone at the villa for hours, which gives Mirjam the pretext to enter the house unannounced. When Bill finally appears from upstairs, he tells Mirjam quite matter-of-factly that Livia has gone out somewhere, and Bill hasn’t been able to find her, but he is sure she will soon turn up. Curiously, when Livia finally does appear, she is not surprised or bothered to find Mirjam waiting to take her home.

Eventually, Mirjam does not need Livia’s welfare as an excuse to visit Bill, and the two lovers soon plunge into a passionate affair. Yet all five characters seem to be at an impasse until an accident at sea results in one death and a massive rearrangement of emotional priorities. I won’t tell you anything more about the narrative, except to say that a surprise ending amounts to one of the most heart-rendingly brilliant coups in directing, writing and acting I have ever experienced on the screen. Like only a few endings I can recall, it makes you rethink everything you have seen before, and weep a little inwardly. The performances are all right-on, but Ms. Gedeck reaches new heights even for her, after her previous triumphs in Sandra Nettelbeck’s Mostly Martha (2001) and Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s The Lives of Others (2006).

Love at Sea