By Jeena Jackson
The film opens with a peek on a camera viewfinder, highlighting a vlog session of two seemingly close friends. The viewer, placed behind the camera, immediately sees a picture of youthful exuberance, a long-standing friendship and glimpses into two varying perspectives.
Soon, we find out more about the two young men on camera. The confident, suave lad is Karl (Jannik Schumann), while the laid-back one is Albert (Nyamandi Adrian). Both are restless residents of a small, unnamed rural town in Germany, bonded by their penchant for the arts and a similar desire to venture into a wider world.
As the two best friends banter on and off the camera like blood brothers, you trace a fine crack in what appears to be an unbreakable bond. The crack, which they try to ignore, is Albert’s reluctance in expressing his real thoughts. While the confident Karl endlessly attempts to get through Albert’s shell, the latter’s self-perceived flaws already caved him into a pit of his own making.
Marie Diane Ventura’s official directorial debut “Deine Farbe (Your Color)” is practically a deconstruction of friendship and isolation in a contemporary context. While Karl and Albert’s friendship is the soul of the film, the Filipina American writer and director darts through a range of mental health issues. Albert mirrors these issues, and coming from a shattered two-member family that struggles financially, the weight of his inferiority complex bears down on his friendship with Karl and affects his self-perception and worldview.
“Deine Farbe,” goes beyond the typical coming-of-age drama; it dissects today’s cultural values and speaks of universal truths. Through her young protagonists, Ventura reflects upon the era of self-promotion, which runs parallel to the simmering issue of mental health and other forms of intolerance.
To escape the constraints of their small-town life, the best friends escape to Barcelona in pursuit of personal satisfaction and to chase their shared dreams. But their new life in a new city widens the already existing crack in their friendship and the duo soon struggles against their growing resentment towards each other’s disparate values.
“Deine Farbe,” which screened last year at the Hof International Film Festival (one of the most important film festivals in Germany associated with big names in cinema, like Wim Wenders, Jim Jarmusch, and Werner Herzog), boasts of naturalistic performances from Adrian and Schümann (who also co-produced the film), who both render their characters with richly distinct voices. Their onscreen rapport is convincing, and the audience feels the deep-seated respect and fondness they have for each other despite their clashing perceptions. Sometimes, though, they really do feel more like bickering lovers than best friends.
To drive the story’s themes, Ventura effectively portrays the multilayered Albert, managing to convey the nuances of this tragic and complex character. And German actor Adrian essays Albert’s pain with impressive subtlety. Here is a man seeking for a real sense of belonging, whose artistic temperament and self-doubt further complicates his disadvantaged background.
The narrative sometimes comes off as too literal and expository to provoke discussion and has a tendency to be slightly melodramatic. But Ventura compensates for it with her meticulous direction and generally restrained treatment. She also never veers away from her subject, pulling the audience into the rising crescendo of Karl and Albert’s dramatic journey of self-discovery.
“Deine Farbe,” lensed beautifully by cinematographer Hilarion Banks, may be set in two European locations, but it avoids looking like a travel documentary or a film tourism like most Filipino movies that are set overseas. Also, there is one dream sequence featuring Albert that is hauntingly surreal, which is a testament to Ventura’s knack for visual poetry. She’s clearly gaining her own distinct style in the world of independent cinema.
The director’s past experiences in writing, producing, and directing (and winning awards for her short films in various international filmfests) has resulted in a more matured and a more technically polished work in “Deine Farbe”—which explains its sold-out premiere at the Hof and its inclusion at this year’s 2nd Diorama International Film Festival & Market in New Delhi.
In these times when society romanticizes – or in some cases, neglects the prevalence of contemporary matters, Deine Farbe functions as an artistic crusader that depicts the importance of self-care, self-awareness and ultimately, the response to mental health issues. It also funnels the emotional repercussions of these problems. As we watch Karl gradually fit into society and Albert’s slow resignation to failure, the audience experiences what is perhaps the most tragic form of a dissolving friendship.