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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Obsession
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment // Unrated // November 7, 2006
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Paul Mavis | posted October 22, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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Obsession is a 1997 Germany film concerning a woman in love with two men. I would guess it's being released now on DVD because of the impending publicity onslaught that's going to accompany the new James Bond release, Casino Royale in November, starring one of Obsession's stars, Daniel Craig (he's featured prominently on the DVD cover, with his name over the title, even though he's actually third billed in the film). Obsession is a vague diversion into the romantic/quirky genre - it's certainly not a "romantic thriller" as it's labeled in some interviews with Craig. While the main story is handled in a decent, if somewhat pedestrian, manner, the central character - Heike Makatsch (Resident Evil) - is never fully explored as to her motivations for taking two lovers. Of course, love has no explanation, but it would have been nice if the filmmakers had at least attempted a reason for her actions.

Miriam Auerbach (Makatsch) is a horn player in an all-girl rock band. Her long-time lover, Pierre Moulin (Charles Berling) is a medical researcher working on the rejuvenation of heart muscle cells (get the heavy symbolism there?). Miriam is quite content with Pierre; they enjoy a healthy sexual relationship, and seem blissfully happy. However, a chance encounter with John McHale (Craig), an immigrant on a mysterious quest pertaining to his family background, leads Miriam astray - though at first chastely - from Pierre. While waiting at a Berlin train station, John tries to aid Jacob Frischmuth (Seymour Cassel), who is being chased by store security for stealing a set of earrings. Miriam witnesses this, as well, and is called before the judge at Jacob's trial - as is John. Jacob and his brother, Simon (Allen Garfield), offer John any assistance he may need, once the courts find out he's in Germany illegally. Miriam finds herself drawn to John, particularly when he waits outside her house, hoping to meet her. Thus starts a (relatively benign) obsession on John's part to make Miriam his, while she openly falls in love with John - while refusing to give up Pierre.

While the performances in Obsession are okay, character motivation is a big problem - particularly for Miriam and Pierre's actions. Pierre's character is given the shortest shrift; he says he loves Miriam and that's why he's willing to put up with her loving another man, too. But the character is sketchily drawn; the filmmakers were clearly more interested in the Miriam/John relationship. John's character is on a quest to find a piece of film that might show the faces of two tightrope walkers (heavy symbolism, again) who crossed Niagra Falls. John found a picture of the two walkers in some hidden possessions of his late grandmother (who was murdered by his grandfather). This trek somehow leads him to Berlin (we're never really sure why), where he hopes to find film that shows their faces, which he feels will clear up his obsession with the photo while solving the mystery of his grandmother's death. There's much made of John's quest in the film; the Frischmuth brothers are taken with his search, and they offer lodging, a job (and one would assume an endless supply of money to finance John's various wanderings throughout the film). John, by pure cinematic happenstance, encounters one of the brothers' clients, Ella Beckmann (Marie-Christine Barrault), who just happens to have a huge collection of film tins, with millions of feet of vintage newsreel footage. Of course, the tightrope walker footage is eventually found, but the filmmakers really botch the significance of this discovery, by actually cutting away after a few seconds into the scene. This is supposed to be a revelatory moment for the character, and the filmmakers essentially throw it away.

Miriam's character, the central motivation for the story, is never completely believable as the lover of two men, simply because each time the filmmakers offer an excuse for her actions, the answer from her is always, "I don't know why I love them both, but I do." Well...okay, but the filmmakers shouldn't be surprised when the audience responds with, "I don't know why she wants them both, but forgive me if I don't really care anymore now." Makatsch is a charming performer; she has an unconventional, not pretty sensuality that goes a long way towards explaining why the two men would initially be attracted to her. But she's given almost nothing in the way of character development that would explain why they would keep pursuing her, particularly when they learn that to have her, they must learn to share her. Her constant answer to everything is, "I just don't know, but this is what I want." For Obsession to be more successful, the audience would have liked a little more effort when it came to working out just what Miriam did know.

Technical credits on Obsession are good; the film has a nice, rich look to it, courtesy of veteran British cinematographer David Watkin (Help!, Out of Africa). Location work in Germany and France is first rate, helping the undernourished dramatics quite nicely. The director, Peter Sehr, has a feeling for getting the mechanics of a romance right; the actors convey the initial attractions, and subsequent partings and reunions, nicely. But more was needed in the script than just having attractive performers play at romance.

The DVD:

The Video:
Obsession is presented in full screen format. I looked around but I couldn't find any information on whether or not this was a German television movie first, before being released to theaters -- if indeed, it was released at all. The image looks a little tight for 1.33, so I'm guessing it's not the correct ratio. Still, the picture image itself is clean and sharp.

The Audio:
The stereo soundtrack is adequate, although those horrible songs from Miriam's band unfortunately come through quite well.

The Extras:
There are no bonuses, except for some anonymous trailers -- and none for the featured film.

Final Thoughts:
Obsession is one of those noodling kind of European romances that rely heavily on atmosphere and good performances, but which eventually wind up going nowhere. If the filmmakers make a big deal out of John's quest about his grandmother, and then throw away the scene where he finally finds out about her, then there's not much I can do as a viewer. If I don't understand Miriam's quandary in choosing between, and ultimately accepting, two men as her lovers, then there's not much point in watching the film. Skip it.

Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.

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