Berlinale Forum 2011 – Brownian Movement


Brownian Movement
Director: Nanouk Leopold
Netherlands, Germany, Belgium 2010
English, French
Cast: Sandra Hüller (Charlotte), Dragan Bakema (Max), Sabine Timoteo (Psychiatrist), Ryan Brodie (Benjamin), Frieda Pittoors (Rental Agent), Ergun Simsek (Man 1), Kuno Bakker (Man 2), Gelijn Molier (Man 4)

“For thou wilt mark here many a speck, impelled
By viewless blows, to change its little course,
And beaten backwards to return again,
Hither and thither in all directions round.
Lo, all their shifting movement is of old,
From the primeval atoms; for the same
Primordial seeds of things first move of self,
And then those bodies built of unions small
And nearest, as it were, unto the powers
Of the primeval atoms, are stirred up
By impulse of those atoms’ unseen blows,
And these thereafter goad the next in size;
Thus motion ascends from the primevals on,
And stage by stage emerges to our sense,
Until those objects also move which we
Can mark in sunbeams, though it not appears
What blows do urge them.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things (trans. William Ellery Leonard, Project Gutenberg EBook)

Brownian Movement opens with unfocused flesh tones and the sound of breath. We see a furnished apartment where the bed is the center, a chair facing as in a psychiatrist’s office.

In part 1, Charlotte, a young professional woman, makes a rent payment in cash. She brings her own blanket. We learn that she is a doctor and a clinical researcher, investigating drug-induced hematologic reactions, specifically thrombocytopenia. As she makes her rounds of her clinic, she shops for men who are in one way or another strange – grossly obese, hirsute, coarse, decrepit – to invite to her rented room for sex. She selects them as if setting up a scientific experiment.

She looks at the woman she is in her furnished apartment having sex with these patients. What will they do to me? Curiosity. She does not judge them; there is no morality. At the same time, she looks at the woman she is when she is with her husband and son, devoted, loving. How am I different now?

A pivotal visit to her husband’s worksite – Max is an architect – brings part 1 to a close.

Part 2 has the brightness of a painting from the Delft school. A sense of cleanliness and order as Charlotte faces psychiatric therapy and professional judgment. In therapy, she cannot articulate, except to say “I want to touch Max, it’s automatic. He’s very handsome.” Asked why she chose those particular men, “I shouldn’t tell it. It only makes it worse.”

In her psychiatrist’s waiting room, Charles Le Brun’s (d. 1690) physiognomies – comparative drawings of human and animal faces.

After Charlotte’s hearing before the medical tribunal, she sits in a ruined overgrown graffitied place, among the garbage, listening to the birds and sirens. Looking up in innocence to the heavens. She weeps.

In part 3, the family has moved to India, where Max has a job designing a building and Charlotte has borne twins. Charlotte visits the worksite alone. Everybody is away. Max has followed her, he looks through the building of his design for his wife. She is there alone. Eyes closed. In contact with his rough building. In reverie.

Max lies awake at night, weeping. “Sometimes I don’t know who you are anymore.” The long silences where everything that is said is final and cannot be taken back.

In the end, they drive across a vast plain. Charlotte enjoys things for what they are. Sinless. Not made for this world.

Format: 35mm, Cinemascope.

Read the Forum essay.