Photo: Cannes Film Festival
by Justin Stewart Film Horizon Line

In My Room | Ulrich Köhler

October 24, 2019

It’s nigh-impossible to discuss the new film In My Room, from Berlin School-affiliated writer/director Ulrich Köhler, without revealing that a third of the way in, seemingly all of humanity vanishes overnight, save schlubby protagonist Armin (Hans Löw). Until that jolt, Köhler’s film is a muted, semi-drab character study following thirtysomething Armin as he amiably bumbles through a TV news dayjob and a sloppy personal life lived out of a dingy one-bedroom where he’s crashed for more years than he cares to admit to a repelled one-night stand. Köhler lays on the humdrum abjection thickly — lingering on Armin’s paunchy nude form (even his bicep tat is basic) and showing him brushing his teeth while urinating, and then mirrorlessly flossing in his bedroom. When Armin returns to his childhood home to tend to a dying grandmother, he and his oversharing father (Michael Wittenborn) take turns walking into different rooms to stare off at nothing.

Before this studied miserablism can grow unbearable, Armin wakes up in a car, very alone (as in the similarly lugubrious The Leftovers, the “departure” is never explained, though it seems to have something to do with the grandmother). And after Armin’s initial panic (which allows for some virtuosic hood-cam driving footage around the I Am Legend ghostscape), subtle edits push the action forward an indeterminate number of years, revealing a new Armin, one who’s expert at tilling the land, tinkering, and hydroelectricity. Armin’s loneliness is interrupted, though, by a violent meeting with the intimidating Kirsi (Elena Radonicich). It’s a seeming jackpot for both of them — they’re relatively attractive heterosexuals in the same age bracket — but soon their relationship is poisoned by the usual boredom (she glumly watches Bridges of Madison County on a Macbook while shooing away his interruptions) and bickering (she does not want to procreate and he betrays her trust). Even as The Last Man on Earth, Armin can’t get the girl. Throughout, Köhler’s narrative portioning is masterful; banal moments from the first section take on new significance after the apocalypse event, while the film’s final third works as a wryly pessimistic microcosm of modern romance. 

Published as part of October 2019’s Before We Vanish.