Painfully awkward. Those would probably be the best two words to describe the uncomfortable character study present in Maren Ade’s “The Forest for The Trees”. Eva Loebau plays Melanie, an idealistic but naive schoolteacher, who upon terminating a long term relationship finds herself in over her head living life on her own. Melanie is well weaning both in her work and her private life but cannot seem to connect to her students or her peers. Too timid to demand respect she is at the mercy of her 5th and 9th graders leading to daily torment and humiliation. Her personal life isn’t much better, after a friendly encounter with her outgoing next door neighbor Tina (Daniela Holtz) Melanie latches onto her new acquaintance, stopping by at random times and even following Tina in the hopes of striking up further conversations.
“The Forest for the Trees” is an effective portrait of a desperate young woman. This isn’t desperate in the Hollywood sense, there is no drug addiction or mental illness, Melanie’s loneliness doesn’t turn her into a killer, this is realistic desperation of having no idea how to get your life back on track. Of course a quiet piece such as this is dependent upon the performances and Eva Loebau as Melanie delivers the goods. Her portrayal of Melanie is multilayered showing the character to be annoying without ever sacrificing audience sympathy. Her actions are sad but we always understand why she does them. Ade’s direction is also vital to the piece, scenes play out quickly, conversations are cut short and the viewer is given abbreviated glimpses into Melanie’s life. This approach is especially effective because it shows how Melanie does not really fit in anywhere be it her school, her apartment, the mall or a club.
If there is any problem with “The Forest for the Trees” it’s that even at 81 minutes the piece seems to run a little long. While Loebau’s performance remains strong throughout the actions become a little too repetitions, after the fifth time we are shown her failing to connect with her classes we have gotten the point.
All in all, “The Forest for The Trees” is a very well put together slice of life story showing us a character that always feels one hundred percent realistic. The piece builds to an ending which is as ambiguous as it is great where Melanie finally sees the forest, a strange, yet fitting ending to a brutally awkward journey.