If there’s one take-away from Forget About Nick, the first English-language film by German director Margarethe von Trotta, it’s that nothing much has changed in the 20 years since The First Wives Club rang a familiar bell for middle-aged female audiences. Successful men still trade their spouses in for younger models (here, the titular Nick’s new girlfriend is literally a model) and their discarded wives are left weeping, soul-searching and/or plotting revenge.
In this traditionally shot international comedy, Von Trotta and screenwriter Pamela Katz, who co-scripted the director’s historical films Rosenstrasse and Hannah Arendt, have an engagingly modern (though hardly radical) outlook, but no great new insights to offer about the unfair disparity between the aging sexes and their exes. The graceful English dialogue and New York City setting should anyhow help the Match Factory release to do some international business after its initial bows at the Cologne and Tokyo festivals, and the helmer’s fans will want to check out how she fares in this unlikely genre.
A mild-mannered update on ‘The First Wives Club.’
The international cast could have stepped out of a Woody Allen movie. The amiable Katja Riemann (who headlined von Trotta’s Rosenstrasse and I Am the Other Woman) plays the 50-ish Maria, and Norwegian stage actress Ingrid Bolso Berdal is the newly dumped 40-year-old ex-model and now fashion designer Jade. Both women were married to Nick for 10 years, and both were left when they turned 40.
The villain of the piece (played by Turkish actor Haluk Bilginer from Winter Sleep) is a relaxed 60-year-old who appears onscreen only briefly, though the whole story revolves around him and the chaos he creates when he shacks up with a 20-year-old and signs over his flashy loft to both Jade and Maria — unbeknownst to Jade.
When Maria arrives, she looks startled to see that the old apartment has been converted from a reclaimed industrial space into a cold marble and glass design house. It was a lot more homey when she and Nick were living there. She finds the fridge neatly stacked with unappetizing health foods and immediately bakes a pie, then starts redecorating by moving a hideous piece of modern art out of sight. (Later, she and Jade will move it back and forth in a gag repeated until it’s dead.)
Jade returns home from work to find Maria casually installed in the apartment. She is still entertaining hopes that Nick will come back to her and can’t believe he has given half of their home to his first wife. Her suffering over being abandoned by the man she loves is sidelined by anger at this new dilemma. Then there’s the stress of her struggling fashion brand, in deep trouble now that Nick’s economic support is in doubt.
So there are plenty of reasons to empathize with Jade, even if she is less simpatico than the free-floating Maria. Too old to model anymore and watching her famous name devalue day by day, Jade has turned into a sharp-tongued businesswoman who has bought into the American model that it’s all about money and success and looking good. Her wardrobe, made up exclusively of black and white blouses and pants, is unforgiving of the extra pounds she is putting on. Hers is not only a fashion statement but a tyranny that the laid-back, casually dressed Maria doesn’t have.
Riemann and Bolso Berdal are pro actresses, and they effortlessly construct contrasting characters who nevertheless find a few points of contact. One expects the two women to bond, but it’s tough. While denying she’s out for revenge on her old enemy, the “homewrecker” who stole her man, Maria digs in and refuses to sell the apartment. Shades of mother!: She invites her daughter Antonia (Tinka Furst) and grandson Paul (Vico Magno) over from Germany and they move in, too. From there, the story really has nowhere to go on any front until the off-the-wall resolution, which hardly feels like a feminist statement.
Young Furst is notable as Nick and Maria’s clear-headed and perceptive daughter.
Filmed with a touch of Euro elegance during a slushy New York winter by German lenser Jo Heim, the story is mainly apartment-bound, suggesting it might make a better stage play.
Production company: Heimatfilm
Cast: Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Katja Riemann, Haluk Bilginer, Tinka Furst, Fredrik Wagner, Lucie Pohl, Vico Magno
Director: Margarethe von Trotta
Screenwriter: Pamela Katz
Producer: Bettina Brokemper
Director of photography: Jo Heim
Production designer: Volker Schaefer
Costume designer: Cindy Spiekemann
Editor: Christian Kramer
Casting director: Susanne Ritter
Venue: Tokyo Film Festival (competition)
World sales: The Match Factory