Cities can mean connectivity and community, or boredom and loneliness. They are projections of dreams and disappointment, places of becoming or despair.  The GOETHE FILMS series “Loneliness In the City” features three fresh cinematic perspectives with multiple angles on the interplay between our well-being and our physical environment.

David Nawrath’s celebrated feature film debut “The Mover” provides a solitary and intense portrait of a working-class man whose life consists of his job —until a chance encounter leads him to question not only his occupation but past personal decisions. Nicola Graef’s new documentary “A Lonely City” reveals the single reality behind the togetherness often expected in a city as vibrant as Berlin. Through the moving stories of young student Tessa, out-on-the-town elderly gentleman Efraim, just-broken-up artist Thomas, and other absorbing big city dwellers opening up, we witness their personal isolation despite their best efforts. In Johannes Maria Schmit’s drama “Neubau” we follow Markus, a young man torn between the care for his colourful grandmothers in the countryside and his longing for self-determination in Berlin’s alluring queer community.

These three fresh cinematic perspectives offer multiple angles on the interplay between our well-being and our physical environment. While the dozens of characters on-screen are distinct and diverse in their life choices, the viewer can relate to each of them in their moments of urban alienation and distancing.  Across all three —poetic, rough, melancholic, hopeful, curious and longingly, viewers enter worlds of urban absence and aspiration.

This digital series is delving right into feelings of urban isolation (and hope), and is bringing filmmakers’ and experts’ faces into your home with exclusive​ introductions and commentary. Urbanism professor Ahmed Allahwala will share his insightful German and Canadian perspectives on “Loneliness in the City.” Berlin’s award-winning director Nicola Graef will tell you how she started her documentary, A Lonely City.  Filmmaker Johannes Maria Schmit takes us from rural Brandenburg to an imaginary Berlin with his Max Ophüls Prize winning queer drama Neubau. 

15-17 May 2021 6pm-6pm EST streaming window
The Mover” (“Atlas”) (Germany 2018, 99 min.), directed by David Nawrath, starring Rainer Bock, Thorsten Merten, Albrecht Schuch, Nina Gummich, Friederike Bellstedt, and others.

60-year-old Walter is a furniture remover for forced evictions in Frankfurt. Walter ignores all the aches and pains his tough job creates, just as he ignores the pain of the people whose lives he invades. His boss is planning a risky real estate deal with a dodgy family clan. When the old apartment building is to be evacuated to be resold for a huge sum, one occupant refuses to move out. Walter thinks he recognizes his son in this young man, the son he ran out on years ago. Without disclosing his real identity, Walter cautiously gets closer to Jan and his young family. When he realizes how erratic the men his boss has gotten involved with are, Walter comes under pressure.

18-20 May 2021 6pm-6pm EST streaming window (International premiere)
A Lonely City” (“Eine Einsame Stadt”) (Germany 2020, 90 min.), documentary directed by Nicola Graef. 

Loneliness has many faces in Berlin. Young and old are afflicted by it, men, women, single and married people. We have all been there, wherever we find ourselves in big global cities. Still, there’s a stigma to acknowledging loneliness. Director Graef lets the lonely urban inhabitants speak, and listens. Berlin is a city for extroverts, Tessa thinks. The young woman, however, is not one of them. The consequence is loneliness and that “is quite draining,” she says. 85-year-old Efraim, a photographer and flaneur, has found a confident way to deal with those nagging feelings: He’s “not the type for marriage,” anyway. Artist Thomas suffers from the end of a long-term love affair and wonders whether “the icing sugar has come off by the age of 50,” while hoping that “there is a market for everything, even broken cars.” Poised and affectionate, we move through the expanses of the city, where stories sprout like weeds between the cobblestones. From the corner pub to the artist’s studio, from parks to sports clubs and, time and again, into silent apartments – the filmmaker encounters witnesses to emptiness everywhere. Their reports are moving, but they never make us feel hopeless.

21-23 May 2021 6pm-6pm EST streaming window (Canadian premiere)
Neubau” (Germany, 2020, 82 min.), directed by by Johannes Maria Schmit, starring Tucké Royale, Monika Zimmering, Jalda Rebling, Min Duc Pham. 

Summer in Brandenburg, outside of Berlin. Markus is torn between the love for his grandmothers in need of care and the longing for a different life in Berlin. A crowd of shimmering demons keeps appearing in his daydreams. An allusion to the queer chosen family that awaits him in the city and saves him from his loneliness? Markus’ boxes are packed, ready to move to the big city. So when he falls in love with Duc, things get even more complicated.

More details and ticket info can be found at digital TIFF Lightbox

Goethe Films and Canadian Urban Institute are also hosting a contextualizing CityTalk to further explore notions of solitude across Canada’s urban centres on May 19.​ More details on the film blog.

About the Author

Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.