Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Despite the title, there aren’t any heavy girls in this independent German film. There is, however, Sven (Heiko Pinkowski), a pot-bellied middle-aged banker who lives with his dementia-ridden mother, Edeltraut (Ruth Bickelhaubt, the director’s own grandmother in her wonderfully endearing debut).
The film opens with them sharing a bed so that Sven can intervene on the double whenever she wakes up believing she has to go to work. Her patient and equally rotund caregiver, Daniel (Peter Trabner), comes over to spend the day with her while Sven goes to work. It soon becomes obvious that Sven is besotted with Daniel but never acts on it because he is married with a son. His feelings remain hidden until Edeltraut locks Daniel on the balcony and goes missing, and the search for her draws the two men closer. The episode snowballs into a series of events that nudges the unlikely pair into an innocent romance and forces them to question their real desires.
Due to its low budget – director Axel Ranisch shot with a mini DV camera and spent just a tad over €500 (S$800) – ‘Heavy Girls’ has all the hallmarks of an independent film. The use of natural lighting lends indoor scenes a shadowy intimacy, although it shrouds the actor’s faces and efforts in some instances. While the handheld method’s shakiness gives a raw, almost pseudo-documentary feeling.
There is plenty of heart and quirk in the characters, who the actors propel forward quite naturally with plenty of imagination and improvised dialogue. You get to see whimsical nuances of their life, such as Sven dancing stark naked to classical music and the three spending an afternoon giving impromptu ballet and circus-like performances in the living room. While the regular male nudity might raise eyebrows, it never gets risqué or feels over the top thanks to the actors’ tender grasp on things.
Because Ranisch keeps things light-handed, it seems fair not to expect any meaty revelations. The build-up to their romance, which is peppered with uncertain moments, is gradual enough to be believable, yet the ending feels like a hasty way of tying things up. Still, the director manages to bring out the themes of love, family, friendship and grief with refreshing candour.
In just beyond an hour, ‘Heavy Girls’ is a sweet and charming introduction to the meandering world of indie films. Approach with a pliant mind.