Langue Étrangère (2024) Berlinale 2024

February 19th, 2024
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Claire Berger | with Lilith Grasmug, Josefa Heinsius, Nina Hoss, Chiara Mastroianni, Jalal Altawil France / Germany / Belgium 2024 French, German, English, Subtitles: English, German. 105′

Clarie Berger’s latest: a ‘coming of age lesbian drama with a difference’ adds marital strife and political activism to the mix to concoct a heady brew that spills out in the summery corners of contemporary Europe:

Student exchanges often develop in unexpected ways, and although Claire Berger’s drama treads on familiar ground in its themes, invigorating performances from a talented cast, along with confident close-up and personal camerawork, make for an intoxicating watch (especially if you’re seated right up close to Berlinale’s main mammoth screen at the Palast).

Strasbourg and Leipzig get a welcome airing as the consecutive locations where relative newcomers Josefa Heinsius and Lilith Grasmug play the exchange students, joining their respective onscreen mothers, arthouse regulars Nina Hoss and Chiara Mastroianni, for some head-on clashes and tender heart-to-hearts,  although the drama’s final show-down doesn’t quite satisfy what has come before.

French teenager Fanny (Grasmug) gets short shift from her German pen-friend Lena (Heinsius) when she first arrives at Leipzig station: Lena and her mother (Hoss) are not getting on well after the breakdown of her parent’s marriage but these differences will soon bond the girls together in more ways than one when they partake of magic mushrooms during a party with Lena’s dorky boyfriend.

When Lena returns to Fanny’s home in Strasbourg to discover her parents – mother Antonia (Mastroianni) and father Anthar (Jalal Altawil) – are not exactly hitting it off either, the two troubled girls find more common ground and start to act out in rebellious ways claiming to be ‘anti everything’, with Fanny breaking the glass in an advertising hoarding and other acts of defiance.

Fanny, who has been bullied at school, at first seems the more vulnerable of the two but soon shows a malevolent streak with her vivid imagination causing Lena to question their friendship. But all this soon boils down to the regular ‘teenage’ stuff. Langue Etrangere is compelling nevertheless. Hoss gets an interesting part that creates an entirely new persona as she breaks away from her Christian Petzold era. Mastrianni too gets to flex her muscles in a role that contrasts with her usual romantic dramas. @MeredithTaylor


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