A quiet, magnificent storm from director Matthias Luthardt, Luise (★★★★★, CRITIC’S PICK) seems to mourn itself before it even begins.
Set in rural Alsace during the waning weeks of the First World War, we observe the solitary Luise, a young woman barely beyond girlhood, left to carry on her family’s smallholding after the recent death of her mother.
Played with an extraordinary sensibility by Luise Aschenbrenner, Luise may exude the capability of a life of physical labor, but her dark, vacant gaze is that of someone left suddenly, completely alone in the world.
As it does throughout this beautifully shot film, the nature surrounding Luise is given in unhurried, mesmerizing detail. It is captivating, but also quietly suggestive of the struggle between those who will survive and those who won’t.
As night falls, first one and then another visitor arrives from the woods. The first is Elsa, who has fled after being attacked by a soldier, the second is the injured soldier Hermann, who witnessed the attack. As Luise manages her unexpected visitors and their separate perils, a superbly-paced emotional triangle begins to emerge.
With exquisite subtlety, Luise — caught between grief, fear and a yearning to engage with the mysteries of adulthood — awakens. Thus begins a love story cradled in the trauma of war’s moral injuries and what it does to the soul.
As Elsa, Christa Theret’s performance is a study in understatement as she gently, confidently courts Luise, while Leonard Kunz delivers his man with a pitch-perfect blend of awkward need that morphs into something wholly else.
Director Luthardt is beyond deft in what he brings from this phenomenal trio, while the photography of Lotta Kilian indulges in light — be it the dark of a wood, the pale brightness of a field or the glow of candles.
Faces are framed like beautiful old paintings that leave you wondering, “What could they have been thinking at this moment?” Because this is — like all great filmmaking — one that shows rather than tells, and the effect comes like the rumbling of distant thunder.
When the storm finally arrives, rife with human failings and all the crushing cruelties made in the name of religion and its attendant, repressive mores, it feels inevitable.
Luise plays on Saturday, Oct. 21, at 3 p.m. at The Eaton.
Live screenings of Reel Affirmations films are Oct. 20 to 22 at the Eaton Hotel, 1201 K St. NW, in Washington, D.C.
Reel Affirmations 2023 includes the Virtual Film Festival providing online access to 43 films for those film lovers who cannot attend the festival in person, with a viewing window from Oct. 23 to 29. Of the 43 films, 26 are available only online.
For a full schedule of films, including retrospective showings, all pricing and pass options, and party information, visit www.thedccenter.org/reelaffirmations.
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