I really need to stop judging a film by its format. I was apprehensive after learning – minutes before the screening – that Heavy Girls had been filmed by Director Axel Ranisch on mini-DV, worrying that I was about to be subjected to seventy-six minutes of an amateur cut-and-paste nightmare. Instead, I was presented with a believable, touching and adroitly edited independent success.
The opening scene is of Sven (Heiko Pinkowski), a middle-aged banker, waking up beside his elderly mother, Edeltraut (Ruth Bickelhaupt) in their shared accommodation. Her carer, Daniel (Peter Trabner), comes by to look after her whilst Sven is at work, and we’re initially greeted with an awkward scene where Daniel catches Sven apparently peeping at his mother whilst she is being washed, for which he confronts him over. Sven explains that he was simply tying his shoelaces. Okay.
However, contrary to what we may imagine, it transpires that Sven is in fact smitten with Daniel, who is married with a son. One evening, when Edeltraut goes missing after locking Daniel out on the balcony, Sven attempts to make a pass at him, but is rejected, albeit delicately. Suspicious that her husband may be having an affair, Daniel is sent away from home for a while, and – with nowhere else to go – stays with Sven and his mother.
The relationship between Sven and Daniel begins to grow stronger, with Edeltraut acting as bonding agent, encouraging her timid son to make a move on the faithful Daniel, who also happens to be a children’s entertainer. There’s a scene, demonstrative of Germanic humour, where they exchange jokes, with zingers such as “there was a fisherman who built a house on a slippery cliff” being thrown around, to much amusement.
Tragically, Edeltraut dies the next morning, betwixt Sven and Daniel in bed. Sven, understandably, is upset, but manages to conceal his woe. Some delicate editing shows him, now alone, pottering about his home with only himself for company, conveyed through ever-so-slow crossfades that make it appear as if he is literally with merely himself for company, working to great effect. His dulcet exasperations of Mutti seem an age ago.
And this is when we see the romance blossom between the two men, with some amusingly awkward moments (including stalking, public kissing, and a brilliant scene involving Daniel convincing Sven to skinny dip). The outcome of which is immensely, and unexpectedly, satisfying. I even smiled. Seriously. There is also an uneasy ambiguity as to Daniel’s expectations with the relationship, and we’re left wondering if he was doing it simply to make Sven feel better, especially given his professional background.
Unfortunately, I cannot gloss over the quality of images and sound. Whilst the DV recording lends a slight veracity to the piece, almost like a home movie, it is of poor quality, jarring and suffers from temperamental sound at points, as well as clicking. However, vision was never trounced by lack of resource. What the film lacks in production value (it was shot on a budget of about five hundred Euro), it makes up for in spirit, editing and a joyful, half-improvised script. All of the performances are strong and entirely credible, filling my dead soul with a genuine compassion for Sven and his lonely plight, Edeltraut and her debilitating dementia and Daniel, facing uncertainty and a desire to simply make people happy.
The literal translation of Dicke Madchen is Thick Girls, but there’s nothing thick about this slickly editing, superbly performed narrative, that despite a lack of production value, still manages to make you feel for what you are witnessing and elicits one of the most important responses in filmmaking: actually making you care about what happens to the characters, which is something that even some of the silver screen greats still manage to fuck up.