Directed by Anne Maschlanka
We're staying very close to this old man, as he stumbles through the skyscraper environment of the big city. We instantly get the feeling that he might be lost, which we will find out to be true in more than one aspect. Furthermore: It is exactly what we are supposed to feel at this moment, and it is conveyed by purely cinematic devices, without any music or dialogue.
This will be, we realize, a journey into the cinema of broken bodies, that in our time has been championed by the likes of David Cronenberg and Mel Gibson.
And what a body it is! Axel Eichenberg acts with total abandon, as he lets us inspect his thin, crooked legs, his rheumatically angular arms and his heaving belly bulging over his swimming shorts. The way he jumps when the shower startles him; the way he strays around confusedly in his waddling stride while searching for the pool in this unfamiliar place – this is a performance you can't stop watching.
Which is not to say that director Anne Maschlanka and DoP Max Hüttermann don't have a dozen tricks up their sleeves to enhance this performance. Because the second thing we notice is an odd shift in perspective – the world is, as hamlet once described, out of joint, it literally has tilted.
And when the old man climbs onto the highest diving platform – a process that a lesser director would not waste any time on – this short film correctly finds this a process of great focus and painstakingly detailed interest: we hear the old man's heavy, but determined breathing; we see every sweaty movement, as he climbs step after step; even the camera seems to faint from the hardship. In this sense ANDERTHALB is an astonishingly mature, even wise short film for a group of students – you could almost believe they know how it feels to haul a reluctant body to such unexpected heights.
Then there's even an involuntary plunge into the water, which could be his death – but instead results in a strange, oblivious rebirth as the man forgets his age for a short time and heads up to relive his moment of glory. And once he's up on the tower, there's no more disturbing shifts of perspective: his path is a straight line. Through the miracles of editing he is his younger self again, flexing his muscles.
His body has regained a state of grace, of control and effortlessness that seemed impossible just moments ago. Muscular memory kicks in. His arms unfold elegantly like the wings of an albatross. Even the soundtrack of remembered cheers from the crowd is reminiscent of the good old days. But then the eyes of the old man are once again glazing over: The flesh may indeed be willing, but the spirit is weak.
It's a terrible realization that the past is gone and buried. But then again: for a moment there, the verve and vigour of youth were back. This is what ANDERTHALB manages to tell so knowingly and heartfelt: A short recapturing of youth, of love, of effortlessness – and then it's all lost again. Stefan Höh's wise script fortunately doesn't pretend that there has been a live-changing event taking place. Instead we see nothing more, nor less, than a short flickering of pathos, before everyday life begins anew. And aren't these flickering moments of glory what makes this dismal life worth living?