Marseille (2004)

A German woman temporarily moves from Berlin to Marseille in this enigmatic work by a unique filmmaker largely in tune with the unfathomable ennui of her characters.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Dir. Angela Schanelec
2004 | Germany/France | Drama | 95 mins | 1.85:1 | French & German
Not rated – likely to be NC16 for mature themes

Cast: Maren Eggert, Emily Atef, Alexis Loret
Plot: Wanting a change, Sophie does an apartment swap, so she can go photograph the city of Marseille, and most of all get away from Berlin.
Awards: Nom. for Un Certain Regard Award (Cannes)
International Sales:

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Existential
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex – Elliptical
Pace: Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

After I saw I Was at Home, But (2019), I became interested in exploring more of Angela Schanelec’s filmography. 

My next foray is Marseille, an earlier work of hers, but one that nonetheless reinforces my newfound admiration for this unique filmmaker.  I daresay she’s one of the most underappreciated European filmmakers who emerged in the late ‘90s. 

Marseille stars Maren Eggert (also in I Was at Home, But) as Sophie, a young German woman hoping to get away from Berlin, where she works as a photographer.  Chancing upon a newspaper ad about an apartment swap, she temporarily moves to Marseille to rejuvenate herself. 

There is nothing much in terms of a narrative in the traditional sense, but such is Schanelec’s skill in expressing the unfathomable ennui of her characters that Sophie is at once a person whose ‘nature’ we can connect with, that is to say, we can feel the uncertainties she is facing in the process of trying to find herself, yet she is also an enigmatic figure, and pretty much closed off emotionally. 

Eggert has that rare ability to be present and oblivious at the same time, and for the most part, Schanelec’s film operates to the strength of her talents. 

Marseille may be a character study, but it is also about the city’s ‘aural-visual’—the passing cars, people walking, people working etc., and Schanelec takes pains to bring out this bustling day-to-day atmosphere through a series of static shots and tracking long takes. 

In a way, one might find the dynamic of Eggert’s present-oblivious nature very much aligned with Schanelec’s expert mise-en-scene, where she toys with movement and stillness so effectively that her rigorous use of film language very much holds our gaze throughout.

Grade: A-


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