“The Forest for the Trees” is a rather accurate depiction of a character who should never be the protagonist of a movie. Even while running a short 81 minutes, the movie sticks in a groove of its character’s inability to do anything other than aggravate people and fail to do her job. The culminating poetic ending doesn’t make up for a lack of emotional depth in the depiction of its hapless heroine. The movie makes the audience, like many of the other characters in the movie, simply want to get rid of her.
In her feature debut, German writer/director Maren Ade’s DV camera mercilessly follows Melanie (Eva Löbau), a young woman who arrives in the city to teach biology to kids ranging from fifth to ninth grade at the public school. She wants everyone to like her, including the students, and is incapable of controlling her classroom, let alone the things in life of which she isn’t in charge. Almost always on screen, Löbau is very good at communicating Melanie’s needy feelings, but that only makes the movie’s failure to create an emotional release for her worse.
Melanie’s need for people who could care less to like her recalls Shelley Duvall’s clingy Millie from Robert Altman’s 1977 masterpiece “3 Women,” but “The Forest for the Trees” lacks that movie’s surreal tone and unique character interaction. She latches on to Tina (Daniela Holtz), her neighbor whose appartment she can see through her window. While initially friendly, Tina gradually loses her patience as Melanie turns into a stalker who doesn’t know when to back off. Each time she makes a bad move, it is incredibly painful because it’s obvious Melanie is going to hurt herself more and more. This squirmy feeling, however, is the only one that the film manages to elicit.