Broken ankles, bloody feet, tense shoulders. Muscles flex in the neck, the skin stretches over the tendons, it looks like pain after years of torture. Scarring eczema shines on the neck. Nadja (Sarah Nevada Grether) was a ballerina, she abused her body.
Now she can barely walk, takes strong pills and trains young girls in Berlin. At Grand Jeté, she explains the classic ballet figure, you stand in the air for a second, nothing is behind you, nothing is in front of you. The shared jump par excellence, absolute freedom, ultimate control.
Director Isabelle Stever displays such an obsessive, unsettling physicality in Grand Jeté that it comes as a shock. Fascination and confusion meet on the face of this woman who is tormented and takes a peculiar pleasure in it. Our own body, says the 59-year-old filmmaker, is what we control and to which we are at the mercy of. Stever became known with the love triangle “Gisela” (2006) and the development worker drama “Weather in closed rooms” (2016), both of which are also formally very idiosyncratic works.
When “Grand Jeté” celebrated its world premiere at the Berlinale Panorama this year, it polarized the audience. Because it shows the artistic rigor that was sought in vain in the festival’s main program and because of the breaking of taboos. At a party in the small town of her mother Hanne (Susanne Bredehöft) Nadja meets her son Mario (Emil von Schönfels). Mario grew up with his grandmother so his mother could work, the two hardly know each other. But they recognize each other immediately, as soul mates.
Mario also mostly consumes juice and energy drinks, he also trains his body, as a substitute in the gym and in the competition at the nightclub, where he hangs 20-kilo weights on his penis. It’s just that he doesn’t push himself, but tries his best, plays with his strength and his body. Like the sunglasses he buys at the gas station. Mother and son: Stever shows desire, shows sex, incest, pregnancy, a birth.
If something has changed inside me, Nadja wants to know from Mario. A monstrous question in a film that crosses a moral line, which unequivocally suggests incest but does not judge, does not condemn. With fragmented images, skewed perspectives and a light that models the limbs as foreign objects, Constantin Campeau’s camera testifies to the extent to which shyness and alienation are involved. The shallow depth of field also ensures that the focus remains on Nadja. The angular profile, the big eyes, her mostly silent presence, for example at Hanne’s birthday (where Jule Böwe and the long-time Volksbühne dramatist Carl Hegemann drink and dance as supporting characters) appear against a blurred background.
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The intensity of this portrait of a woman in pain may also be due to the fact that the actress Sarah Nevada Grether, who comes from the United States, was a member of the Stuttgart Ballet for a long time before she stopped dancing. She knows the hardships of herself, the eating disorders, the pain.
The script by Anna Melikova is based on the novel “Fürsorge” by Anke Stelling, who had developed a treatment of Franziska Petri at Stever’s request. “Care” integrates something like a moral authority in the form of a horrified narrator. A fragile authority, but from whose perspective the forbidden love for Nadja and Mario is described.
In the film, the character has been eliminated, but the consternation remains. If only because of the out-of-sync scenes and elliptical narrative style.
[Grand Jeté” ist ab Donnerstag in sieben Berliner Kinos zu sehen: Brotfabrik-Kino, Filmrauschpalast (OmenglU), Freiluftkino Kreuzberg, Hackesche Höfe (OmenglU, Moviemento (OmenglU), Wolf (OmenglU)]
The mother is not well either. “My heart, your skin, your bones, we all get what we deserve,” she says, asking worriedly whether Nadja will need a cane or joint surgery. “Grand Jeté” is also a film about motherhood, about longing, eroticism, exhaustion and the inability of mothers. About the taboo phenomenon of desire, which is also the basis for abuse and sexualized violence in the family. And about trying to heal yourself, no matter how monstrous. Nadja starts eating again, gets croissants from the baker, when Mario moves in with her in Berlin.
No, I don’t want to see that, some think, maybe some do. According to Isabelle Stever, art is also able to “find a language for what I don’t understand”. It is worth getting close to a woman like Nadja, as close as possible.