Sydney Film Festival 2018 In the Aisles: About Love, Life and Supermarkets

In the Aisles.
In the Aisles. | © Sydney Film Festival

In the break room of a wholesale supermarket, a sliver of sunshine penetrates the building’s bunker-like facade, illuminating the area where workers escape their tasks. Alas, it belongs to a poster of a palm tree plastered onto the wall, rather than shining through a window from natural sources.

Although appearing as generic as can be, the picture proves a source of fleeting warmth in a space that’s otherwise cold and cavernous; a modest reminder of brightness in this dark, gloomy German warehouse. More than that, it encapsulates the complicated relationship that the store’s workers have with their place of employment. While the small-town market’s crew of melancholy staff remain fully cognisant that stacking shelves is far from their lifelong dream — and are just as aware of the poor choices that have brought them to their current juncture — their job is as close to a ray of light in their humdrum existence as they’re likely to find.

LIFE’S QUIET EBBS AND FLOWS

Though every change of career represents a new beginning, Christian (Franz Rogowski) has plenty of baggage to farewell. He lost his previous job on a construction site due to his behaviour, and he’s also fleeing his hard-drinking former friends and their wayward influence. As such, he’s happy to don his name badge, pull his white-coated uniform over his tattooed arms, pop a few pens in his pocket and take to the shop floor, learning the trade — and the ways of the forklift — from veteran Bruno (Peter Kurth). His mentor also initiates Christian into the store’s inner world, a place where life has its own rhythm under the fluorescent lights and different departments may as well be different countries, but where everyone forms a makeshift community.
 


It’s here, passing each moment one box, shelf and forklift load at a time, that Christian locks eyes on Marion (Sandra Hüller). While he’s saddled with replenishing the store’s supplies of liquid courage, she’s responsible for its sweetness one lane over. With a quiet bravery of his own, he starts to fall for her gently pleasant charms; however, though the duo’s bond blooms over their daily routine, In the Aisles isn’t an account of a sweeping romance. Rather, with writer-director Thomas Stuber adapting Clemens Meyer’s short story of the same name with the author, the film settles into the ebbs and flows of a space that offers its own forms of solace, and of a relationship that does the same.

THE REWARDS OF CASTING

It’s with a full heart and open eyes that Stuber charts Christian and Marion’s tentative connection, exploring a love that’s strong yet often unspoken, and one that’s so deeply anchored in its own realm that it’s likely to wilt outside the supermarket’s walls. Barriers and bleakness surround them, but In the Aisles dwells in the tender minutiae of two people doing the best they can with the imperfect situation at hand. As such, in a feature short on narrative beyond Christian’s new arrival and his feelings for Marion, the movie gives shape, colour and texture to its characters’ existence. Though never avoiding life’s harsher turns, it finds beauty and stylish choreography as workers go about their regular tasks, affection and understanding as they share glances across the shelves, and camaraderie as they weather ups and downs both inside and outside the store. With cinematographer Peter Matjasko’s fond embrace of the warehouse’s embedded palette and editor Kaya Inan’s meditative handling of its natural pace, the feature finds a mood and a flow as well.

It’s with a full heart and open eyes that Stuber charts Christian and Marion’s tentative connection. It’s with a full heart and open eyes that Stuber charts Christian and Marion’s tentative connection. | © Sydney Film Festival Most importantly, thanks to Rogowski and Hüller, In the Aisles highlights the extraordinary within the ordinary. If Stuber’s film shines a light on the modest pleasures that can stem in even the most mundane and ordinary of circumstances, and in a place that’s far from anyone’s first choice to spend the bulk of their waking hours, then the feature’s two central performances give the movie an extra glow. And yet, neither Christian nor Marion’s woes are ever forgotten, which makes the small glimmers of hope they manage to grab in the overstocked aisles of their lives all the more resonant. Indeed, with Victoria, Happy End and Transit on his growing resume, the empathetic Rogowski is fast becoming a master at conveying internalised turmoil — and thanks to the success of Toni Erdmann, Hüller has been thrust to greater attention for doing just that as well. Together, they couldn’t be better choices to embody this perceptive and poignant look at life and love.