Having made two short films with the same actress as the lead character, Baden Baden (2016) is Writer-director Rachel Lang’s debut feature.
Ana (Salomé Richard) is a 26-year-old working as a driver for a film production. She is terrible at her job, gets yelled at by her boss and receives pity from her clients. She returns to Strasbourg with little idea of what she’s going to do for work or what she wants to achieve.
When her grandmother (Claude Gensac) is taken ill she enlists the help of DIY store shelf-stacker Gregoire (Lazare Gousseau) to renovate her grandmother's bathroom with no skills or training whatsoever. Meeting with an old flame who is no good for her, she looks for meaning and a direction for her life.
The first thing that struck me about this film was the boyish androgyny of the lead character. She has short hair, unshaved armpits and wears shorts and a vest top throughout most of the film. She is still the object of a few people’s affections though, showing that traditional femininity does not equal beauty.
She even tries on a long sun dress at one point, but it makes her feel awkward and restricted. She wants to be free and be herself so the dress was just a costume.
Ana presents herself with confidence and has no problem going into spaces where she isn’t allowed or asking strangers for what she needs. But she’s also aimless. She has no specific skills and we’re reminded of that whenever someone asks what her profession is.
She represents young empowered women at the point of stepping up into society with uncertain futures.
Despite its poignancy having quite an impact, especially towards the end of the film, it carries the risk of being slightly forgettable. The tone of the film is laid back, bordering on melancholy, with love, illness and abortion being matter of fact details that young women have to deal with.
The humour is very deadpan with the standout comic performance coming from Lazare Gousseau as the DIY store assistant. His performance is physical and very natural, making him a scene-stealer every time.
The bathroom renovation scenes punctuate the quiet spaces with something deeper. Her frustrations are taken out on the tiles and her hopes are pinned on being able to do a good job. This is a project Ana can actually achieve despite all the failings in her life up to this point. She is determined to finish it as much for her own sake as her grandmother’s.
But she has no idea what she’s doing. Her determination frequently clashes with the realisation that she is very lacking, so we’re rooting for her to succeed just so she knows that she is capable of achieving something.
Baden Baden is an understated feminist film about taking the step into real adulthood, working hard to become a better person and finding what you want in life.
Hi, I'm Caz. I live in Edinburgh and I watch a lot of films. My reviews focus mainly on women in film - female directors or how women are represented on screen.