Yesterday I had the opportunity to chat with writer-director Sven Taddicken whose German/French co-production was gearing up for its festival premiere. Technically, The Most Beautiful Couple was my first festival film, since I caught it via streaming link a few days before leaving Cincinnati. In many cases, this could have been a disaster. Such screenings can feel disconnected from the scene and experience of the larger event, and of course, there’s the simple fact of watching a film on my laptop versus a large communal screen.
From the start, I could tell I was in good hands with Taddicken, a filmmaker I was completely unfamiliar with. This selection was nothing more than the following intriguing listing in the online festival guide:
Married couple Malte (Maximilian Brückner) and Liv (Luise Heyer) are enjoying their Mallorca vacation until the unthinkable happens: they are assaulted by three young men and Liv is raped while Malte is pinned down, unable to stop them, forced to watch.
Back in Germany their life appears to return to something like normal. They continue to teach at the same high school and Malte plays weekend gigs with his band. We learn that it’s been two years since the assault. Liv has been seeing a therapist. She wants to move on, in the bedroom and otherwise, even openly talking about what happened with friends and forgiving her attacker in the abstract. But Malte is stuck, unable to absolve the rapist or more importantly, himself, for what happened. And then, he sees him. He’s ordering a kebab after what seems like a fun night out with his girlfriend. How is this even possible? With their relationship tenuously held together by the pretense of normalcy, and without the help of the police, Liv and Malte must chart a path forward, together.
It would have been easy, as an American critic to settle in expecting a revenge thriller, a cat-and-mouse game between predator and prey where the roles reverse. We know these beats and can program them ourselves; the only difference would be adjusting to the unfamiliarity of the faces of Brückner and Heyer, but within the first moments, when Taddicken spies on them as they make love on a secluded beach, they become quite a beautiful dream of a couple.
I enjoyed the conversation with Taddicken in much the same way I took to his film. He immediately let me know that the idea for the film was a prickly notion, an imagining of a worst case scenario that he wanted to explore mixed with an argument with an old girlfriend. He found something he feared and made it even more personal, which meant that he could focus on this story and these characters without being overly concerned about genre conventions.
I asked him about breaking rules, a question that was really a follow-up of sorts to my interview with The Old Man and the Gun director David Lowery from the weekend. He too was playfully subverting genre expectations and appreciated the ability that filmmakers have to do so without worrying about know all the rules in the first place, unlike say with writing where you’re taught in school to learn the rules of grammar perfectly before you can even consider bending or breaking them.
Taddicken went a step further though in his explanation, pointing out that while he was workshopping the script and even later, during meetings with PR representatives, he heard different genres being tossed around in connection with the film. Some saw it as a thriller, others a drama. He knew both were in the mix, but what did it matter? He had found a freedom to move beyond the labels.
Talk about beauty. He was able to take an idea and translate it as purely as he possibly could.
I appreciated the tense humanity of this couple struggling to move forward. It is a worst-case scenario that anyone can understand. Protecting a loved one and yourself in a moment of crisis, and then attempting to move on, to become whole again when something essential has been forcibly taken away.
I caught myself earlier in the morning, before the interview, thinking about the film while watching If Beale Street Could Talk from Barry Jenkins. Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James), the young lovers of that narrative are a most beautiful couple too, and they face circumstances that challenge the limits of their bond and their ability to get through to the other side together.
These stories – one Black, the other White; one American, the other European – closely reflect the concerns of couples in these situations, regardless of the period (Beale Street is set in the early 1970s, Most Beautiful Couple in a contemporary context). Each are worst-cases, but in the end, the two films show how love finds a way, to endure.
Now that’s a beautiful idea.