The Policeman’s Wife (2013)

August 12th, 2014
Author: Meredith Taylor


Dir.: Philip Gröning;

Cast: Alexandra Finder, David Zimmerschied, Chiara Kleemann, Pia Kleemann; Germany 2013, 175 min.

In 59 chapters, each divided by about 45 seconds intervals, Philip Gröning (Into Great Silence) tells the story of a nuclear family of today.  In the opening sections all appears to be boringly normal as Mr and Mrs get to grips with child rearing in a small  German town.  Uwe (Zimmerschied) is a policeman who has to work long shifts to make ends meet. Nothing new there. His wife Christine (Finder) is often alone at home with their little daughter Clara (Chiara and Pia Kleemann) but seems content with motherhood.

Gradually Uwe turns from a doting father and husband into a vicious monster; beating his wife for no apparent reason. When his daughter sees the horrendous injuries, Uwe tries to cover things up: ‘Mummy is ill’.  Jeopardising her own well-being, Christine wants to stay so that her daughter has a father. This is a realistic, everyday horror and yet it depicts a situation that’s alarmingly commonplace: a woman degrading herself by not leaving her abusive husband, in order to give her daughter a ‘normal’ family life.

Not an easy film to watch for obvious reasons, quite apart from the tedious “Chapter” breaks, Uwe’s violent outbursts, two work-related scenes and the enigmatic appearances of an old man, this small household feels increasingly filled with a claustrophobic menace. But the reasons for Uwe’s mental deterioration are never explored, leaving the viewer to ruminate and speculate: is he mentally ill, or just a sadist.? The narrative structure is also ambiguous: are we watching flash-backs, or following a straight-forward timeframe. This is real ‘fly on the wall’ stuff: information is so limited that we have no way of appraising or analysing the endless repetitiveness. Clearly Gröning wants us to draw our own conclusions, but we are given very little to work with in the process. Bombarded by the stringent quality of the individual chapters, the viewer starts to drown in nearly three hours of emotional warfare and very little narrative flow from chapter to chapter, let alone the entire film.

Performances and cinematography are superb, as the camera probes new angles of faces and objects, perfectly catching the emotional storm from every possible viewpoint. In spite of all this, the viewer feels excluded; as if Gröning is just out to prove a point, a relentless exercise in cruelty, without the slightest explanation for motives. Overlong and tedious, this is an exhausting dogmatic lesson in contemporary dysfunctional family life. AS


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