Discover This: Formentera

© Unafilm Berlin

This week something exceptional is happening – a film will be shown in Berlin for an entire week although it doesn’t have a distribution company. What does that mean? It means there won’t be any advertising and probably no reviews apart from this one. There will be no more than one copy of the film and there won’t be a professional structure to make this film public – and be seen.
What has happened?

In 2007, young filmmaker Ann-Kristin Reyels made her debut with the much talked about Hounds (Jagdhunde), which got her a lot of attention and won her the FIPRESCI prize of the International Federation of Film Critics at the 2007 Berlinale.
Hounds also won its lead actress Luise Berndt the First Steps Award for a well praised feature debut.

Five years later, Ann-Kristin Reyels’ second feature premiered at the Berlinale in 2012. It is set on a Balearic Island and deals with the conflicts of a young Berlin-based couple during their holidays. It is called Formentera (after its main location) and is a wonderfully honest and sensuous investigation into the problematic dynamics of a pair of lovers in a paradise-like setting. But this time, the critics are not very generous and not very original. Most of them compared Formentera with Everyone Else (Alle Anderen) by Maren Ade and stated, in a very “investigative” manner, that the story of a couple’s conflicts in the setting of a Mediterranean island has been told similarly before. Oh really? Last year Hollywood made a remake of Spiderman, a film that was only ten years old, had had two boring sequels, and was based on a comic book. Let’s talk about that for a second. What is it in this country, I kept asking myself, that makes it so difficult for young and ambitious filmmakers to get a little love and support for their work that might not be perfect, but still worth watching and worthy of discussion? What makes a film critic like Andreas Kilb, who I usually admire for his clarity and eloquence, only (and quite chauvinistically) mention the “beautiful women” and the “blue skies” in this film and how nice it is to watch Sabine Timoteo swim?

So let’s talk about something nice: The Fsk cinema is showing Formentera now. Thanks to the heroic collective of six cinema activists who founded the cinema in the late 1980s, Berlin has a place where you are guaranteed to discover an exceptional and daring film every week. The Fsk also often programmes filmmakers whose films are not being supported by a distribution company – like Ann-Kristin Reyels and other directors, like, most recently, Andrea Arnold or Anke Hentschel. The fact that Andrea Arnold’s visually compelling and simply breath-taking Wuthering Heights adoption never made to the big screen in Germany (even after she won an Oscar for her short film Wespen in 2005 and got much attention for her feature debut Fish Tank) is simply scandalous. So, a couple of cinema operators were stubborn enough to show the film anyways and thereby allowing some curious cinephiles to have a magical and mind-opening two hours.

Anke Hentschel’s courageous portrait of an illiterate woman’s late liberation, Unteachable (Unbelehrbar, 2010), is a film that has struggled financially since its making and never got distributed – despite being awarded at the Achtung Berlin Festival and despite being selected for other prestigious festivals like the Max Ophüls in Saarbrücken.

Once again, the Fsk showed the film anyways and suddenly other Berlin cinemas like Eiszeit, Sputnik, Hackesche Höfe, and Lichtblick decided to programme it as well and thus give the film the (after-)life it deserves so much.
It is also striking that the much-neglected films that are lacking support are often those by women filmmakers. Once again, the commitment of the Fsk mustn’t be undervalued here since they work against the sometimes inscrutable structures of sexism in the film business by showing the films by women filmmakers that would otherwise be neglected or even forgotten. Last year, an astonishing 25% of all films shown at the Fsk were directed or co-directed by women, and this year is has been 50 % so far!

One of them is Formentera that opens this Thursday.

We are introduced to a young couple, Nina (Sabone Timoteo) and Benno, that arrives on a beautiful island in the Mediterranean to take some time off from their lives in Berlin and enjoy the first holiday without their daughter. They rent a motorcycle and drive to the picturesque house where part of Benno’s family lives in a peaceful and easy-going hippie commune. The wind in their hair while they drive, the smell of the grass and the light sea breeze – all that is palpable from the very beginning of the film and you instantly wish you were sitting through the night with them over one or two glasses of red wine.
But not all is as perfect as it seems and pretty soon we realize that Nina and Benno haven’t told each other everything about how they feel and what they want. It doesn’t take long until Nina gets jealous over the independent and sweet Mara who also lives in the house and gets along well with Benno.

One night the three of them decide to go to a beach party and, after getting drunk, they make a crazy plan to swim to Ibiza. Mara gets lost, Benno gets left behind, and Nina actually makes it to the next shore where she arrives only dressed in underwear.
There is an amazing sensation of discomfort watching actress Sabine Timoteo walk half-naked through the party crowds at night searching for help. Filmed with what must have been a hidden camera, she is running the gauntlet, completely exposed to the views of intoxicated party tourists and irritated locals. Vulnerability has rarely been so tangible.

The exceptional performance of Sabine Timoteo and the unusual casting of Danish actor Thure Lindhardt (Keep the Lights On) as her boyfriend give Formentera a distinct originality that along with the sultry cinematography of Henner Besuch make it a unique and beautiful film. Ann-Kristin Reyels manages to keep up the tension of the perfect, peaceful location on the one hand, and the slowly surfacing drama on the other hand. All in all, Formentera is a very intense film and a sensitive observation at the same time. It deserves a big screen and a wider cinematic release.

Thanks to the Fsk, Berliners can see it now for a week…

Formentera, Germany 2012, 93 min.
director: Ann-Kristin Reyels, cinematography: Henner Besuch, actors: Sabine Timoteo, Thure Lindhardt, Tatja Seibt, Geoffrey Layton, Christian Brückner, Vicky Krieps, Franc Bruneau, Ilse Ritter, languages: German, English, Spanish, French (with German subtitles)

Berlin Screenings: Fsk

Activism must be rewarded, so there won’t be free tickets this week. Support your local cinema! Go there and buy a ticket!

Discover This! is a weekly Berlin–based film comment.


also leave a comment
  1. Freddie Renard on


    “What is it in this country, I kept asking myself, that makes it so difficult for young and ambitious filmmakers ”

    Because there aren’t any young and ambitious filmmakers in this country. At least none that are film-schooled. And this trailer right here? Looks indeed like alle Anderen – not the movie “Alle Anderen” mind you, but literally everything else you see on German public TV every god damn day. There is nothing special about it. It seems that the highest realm of achievement for young German film-students is to create a “ZDF Kleines Fernsehspiel” without any sense of wonder or world-building. German film makers and their love for pretentious realism makes Terrence Malick look like Tim Burton.

    1. Toby Ashraf on

      Sorry to disagree, but this country is full of ambitious and wonderful filmmakers who, because their films want to make a difference, are too ‘artistic’ or unusual, either don’t get funding or the attention they deserve. Many of my friends have been struggeling for years to get their unconventional ideas financed. I could list the projects that sometimes after the production has already begun, collapsed, because funding was cut partially or completely.
      Others (Nazis! GDR! RAF!) get way too much attention and that’s why I created this column to shift the focus away from the mainstream towards what I consider exceptional. Films can’t be judged by trailers and Formentera is no experimental film, I agree. But the focus of my article is not so much on the film itself, but on rather on the structures that prevent films from getting an audience.

  2. Fräulein Schlau Schlau on


    Ich hab den Film mal im Fernsehen gesehen und fand ihn richtig gut!! Ich liebe auch die Insel total :-) Schade, dass ich nicht in Berlin bin, sonst würde ich den Film noch mal im Kino schauen!

  3. daniel perraudin on


    die landschaft und die stimmung sind toll, ja. (und sabine timoteo sowieso). aber was mit der zeit wirklich nervt ist die konstante dis- / misskommunikation sämtlicher hauptdarsteller…

  4. Freddie Renard on


    If any film maker, at this day and age says he can’t realize his project because of insufficient funding, then he doesn’t deserve to make his film. Sorry but we have DSLRs, there is crowd funding, there is the internet as a distribution channel. If you want to make a film today, you have it way easier than ten or fifteen years ago. (If you haven’t done so yet, I encourage you to watch Christopher Nolans “Following” and “El Mariachi” by Robert Rodriguez – two film by great directors who defied the odds in order to have their projects made.)

    I agree with you, that there are too many GDR, Nazi, RAF movies out there these days. The German film industry is not capable of making great films about contemporary issues, such as the financial crisis for instance (there is one called “Unter dir die Stadt” which is as irrelevant though). However the real problem with modern German cinema starts right at the film schools: Ludwigsburg, Munich etc. actively discourage their students to go for the big stories. No, I’m not talking about the drug addicted teenager struggling with the divorce of his parents while discovering his bisexuality – I’m talking about escapism. Stuff that is larger than life. Stories that demand a certain suspension of disbelief and still remain raw!

    1. Toby Ashraf on

      Dear Freddie Renard,

      I find your distinguishing of filmmakers into those who deserve to make films and those who don’t extremely short-sighted. You are also missing my point. In this article I talk about films like Anke Hentschel’s UNBELEHRBAR which was eventually co-funded by an Israeli film institute and came together with a group of people who literally didn’t speak each others language. And yet, it was made. Crowd-fundings like Kickstarter sometimes work, I agree, but more often don’t get the money a film production would need to properly pay everyone involved. Also, in bigger economic terms, it’s a very neo-liberal idea of taking care of yourself instead of having a film-cultural infrastructure that supports your plans financially. Asking your friends for money instead of having a re-distribution of funding capital (international Hollywood productions shot in Germany get millions every year) is the wrong way, in my view.
      Other issues you tackle, like what a film should be about and what topic is relevant are questions of taste that are as always debateable. I think brillant films are made about the status quo of working conditions and the capitalist job market. In UNTER DIR DIE STADT there is a memorable scene in which Nicolette Krebitz is confronted with the fact that her employer finds out that her C.V. is partly fake so that her image appears more polished than it actually is. She is emotionally corrupted by the system of money that she is personally involved with through her husband’s job and goes to bed with even bigger money. What a great analogy, what a great fable! The fact that filmmakers like Christoph Hochhäusler, whose FALSCHER BEKENNER I still consider a completely undervaluated masterpiece, still have problems getting their films funded, is nothing but scandalous.
      It is also true that many film schools push their students into commercially successful directions and put a lot of pressure on output. It’s no secret that Ludwigsburg has a shockingly high suicide rate, because many young film students can’t stand the pressure.
      And yet, I would love to see a film about the drug addicted teenager struggling with the divorce of his parents while discovering his bisexuality…

      Toby Ashraf

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.