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Monday, February 20, 2017

'The Forest for the Trees' DVD: Rookie Teacher Goes Way Out on Limb


Fantabulous New York-based foriegn-film distributor Film Movement provides an aptly awesome second bite at the apple regarding a February 21, 2017 Film of the Month Club DVD rerelease of the 2003 German drama "The Forest for the Trees."

The reasons that this tale of pathetic rookie teacher Melanie Proeschle deserves that love is that it is the first movie of writer/director Maren Ade, who subsequently makes the wonderfully quirky 2017 Oscar-nominated dramedy "Toni Erdman" about a father gong to great lengths to reconnect with his career-driven daughter.

The festival love for Melanie portrayor Eva Lobau and for Ade includes a Best Actress win for Lobau at the 2005 Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema and the 2005 Newport (Rhode Island) International Film Festival and a 2005 Sundance award for Ade. Further, "Forest" is a best picture winner at the 2005 Newport festival.

The artistic quality of "Forest" is notable from the opening scene. It is shot with a handlheld camera and has a very strong videotaped documentary style. This leads to speculation regarding the film being a mockumentary about small-town 27 year-old girl Melanie moving to the big city to teach the youth of today.

"Forest" further serves as an effective personality test. Highly sympathetic viewers will intensely feel the pain of this earnest loser; sadists will revel in her seemingly endless humiliations, and folks with a sick sense of humor will laugh at her misfortune. The most common reactions likely will be a combination of all the above.

Further. many of the voyeurs among us will see ourselves at low points in our lives and/or people who cross our paths in Melanie. One lesson regarding the latter is that giving a stray kitten a saucer of milk can make getting that needy kitty to later leave you alone a tough challenge.

A memorable scene from the classic 1999 Haley Joel Osment/Bruce Willis thriller offers a strong parallel regarding the aforementioned themes of "Forest." The young outcast whom Osment plays and his mother play a game in which they offer highly idealized versions of their day. If memory serves correctly, the Osment character falsely tells his mother that he hits the game-winning home run at school and she tells him the lies that she has a terrific day at work and receives praise for doing it well.

We meet Melanie as she embarks on her new adventure and get a strong sense of her being the new kid in school as this mid-year arrival stands up in front of her new colleague and immediately alienates them by stating that her being fresh out of school allows her to bring a "breath of fresh air" to her new institution for learning. On a larger level, this reflects the rookie mistake of the new guy in the office not shutting up and observing how the seasoned pros do it.

Things do not go any better for our country mouse heroine regarding her separate fifth and ninth grade classes. Like all students for at least the past 60 years, these kids immediately sense the weakness of this educator who effectively is a sub and pounce on her. They are unruly and browbeat her into transforming a planned field trip to a moor into one to a local amusement park. These are the first of many indications of the absence of Melanie on the days that her class on teaching covered maintaining discipline in the classroom.

Things do not go much better for Melanie on the literal homefront. Her neighbors coolly respond to her awkward attempts at friendliness, and her pushing too hard regarding boutique-owning neighbor Tina (who is glad to figuratively give Melanie an occasional saucer of milk) ultimately creates strong trauma and drama regarding that relationship.

One school-based incident especially illustrates the trials and tribulations of this new educator. A student stepping well over the line, being defiant regarding it, and his mother defending him and verbally attacking Melanie on being called in is universally relatable both to teachers and to individuals who are familiar with the predominant modern manner of raising children.

The desperate borderline stalking of Tina includes regularly spying on her at their mutual apartment complex, using transparent excuses for "bumping into her" in public, and otherwise unduly pushing herself into the life of this woman who is merely open to an acquaintanceship and understandably has equal and opposite reactions to the assertiveness of Melanie regarding their interaction.

As the aforementioned festival awards indicate, Lobau does a great job portraying Melanie as an ineffective teacher and emotionally needy individual who is her own worst enemy. A sad part about this accurate performance is that she is unlikely to ever learn.

Movement chooses as wisely regarding selecting the bonus short film that accompanies every Club selection. The British film "Estes Avenue," which is filmed on the titular street, is a great variation of the aptly titled British television drama "The Street." Both the series and the film tell the tales of neighbors. The characters in the latter include a woman whose son is stationed in Iraq and a single man who has the type of love-hate relationship with his cat that many of us who chose to have a feline as a pet experience.

The clever aspect of "Estes" is that it shows the various emotions that the neighbors express via the same expression.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding either "Forest" or "Estes" is encouraged to email me; you alternatively can connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.