Overview: 23-year-old Simon deals with first love while his father Hans, a brilliant architect, relapses into paranoid, schizophrenic behaviors that make Simon’s home feel like a tenuous, toxic insane asylum. 2014. 90 minutes. Roxy Film / Movienet Film (Germany). Screened at: Kino! Festival of German Films 2015 in NYC, on April 16th.
Meh-lodrama: From the very opening of the film, it seems like what we’re going to get from Flights of Fancy (original title: Hirngespinster) is a sometimes sweet and sentimental, sometimes emotional and difficult to watch family drama. The film was, at times, difficult to watch, but not because of its emotional weight or sophisticated execution, unfortunately. The film could have been a cohesive and emotionally stirring melodrama, but instead it’s a redundant, repetitive film that feels over-dramatic and simplistic. It sometimes rouses our sympathies, even empathy, but more often than not it falls flat thanks to poorly written characterizations, awkward editing, and a protagonist whose motivations and emotions seem more confusing and unwarranted than they do complex and realistic.
Strengths and Flaws: The one thing that I will give this film credit for would be that it is entertaining enough, with really great performances from its leads, Jonas Nay as Simon, and Tobias Moretti as the mentally unstable, emotionally tortured Hans. That said, I think the writing did little to help round these characters out beyond empty, fluffy caricatures; the schizophrenic, belligerent father, the conflicted son, the distraught, sacrificial mother. Whether the characters themselves are actually worn-out tropes or if they’re simply not all that realistic is hard to say. Hans’ outbursts and paranoia are not necessarily overly familiar or even over-the-top, but they do seem too simplistic, and underdeveloped, lacking the complexity and nuance that would have made the character less repetitive, predictable, and off-putting. Out of all the characters though, Simon is the most problematic for me.
Simon Says… What?: Simon is likable enough, and you really do feel for him, but his emotions and actions are erratic and hard to follow, justify, or trace. Rather than weaving his seemingly disparate emotional states together into each scene, having him portray those layers in every scene through dialogue or body language or the specific scenarios of the scenes, the film plays out almost like a series of thematically linked vignettes — with little to no real climax or progression until very close to the end. Each scene starts and ends somewhat abruptly and puts forward a different facet of Simon’s psyche, making the Simon of one scene almost completely different than the Simon of the previous or following scenes. This is way too confusing and distracting to work for me, and is equally dissatisfying to me as the characters who have no range of emotional responses. In some parts of the film, he seems to feel embarrassed and bitter toward his father — for instance, wanting to disassociate himself or rebel in some way. In other parts, he is consumed with concerns that schizophrenia is hereditary and his fear of this future for himself makes him angry toward his mother for having children with Hans in the first place. In still other scenes, he defends his father and wants to follow in his architectural footsteps.
Meanwhile, none of this is ever really posited as the dominant mindset for Simon, and none of it is hinted at or introduced, so it all feels surprising and unwarranted. This makes Simon hard to read, and with each jarring shift from scene to scene, the inexplicable in his personality becomes less and less appealing to try and figure out. My level of investment in him and in the story overall didn’t necessarily waver, but I was frustrated by the inconsistencies in his character and I certainly grew less invested in trying to understand Simon.
Overall: I enjoyed the way the film ends — a remarkably positive and uplifting ending for an otherwise mostly depressing film. Simon follows his dreams of pursuing a degree (in architecture, we’re left to presume) in Hamburg, where the girl he has fallen in love with, the slick and smart Verena, is now finishing her studies after taking a semester to do an internship in Simon’s hometown. It’s genuinely heartwarming to know that, though Hans may never fully recover or admit to his problem, the family still stands behind Simon’s decision to escape to make a better life, career and future for himself. That being said, the film did not satisfy me as much as I was hoping it would at the beginning. It had potential, and it had strengths, and it kept me engaged, but its flawed writing and uncomfortable pacing and inconsistent, one-dimensional characters made this little more than a glorified version of the many corny German TV movies I’d mindlessly watch during my semester abroad in Berlin — entertaining, but without much depth or complexity or coherence where it really could have counted to make the experience more meaningful.