Was wir wollten [What We Wanted] (2020)

Was wir wollten
Director: Ulrike Kofler
Writer: Sandra Bohle, Ulrike Kofler, Marie Kreutzer
Based on: Peter Stamm‘s short story Der Lauf der Dinge
Cast: Lavinia Wilson, Elyas M’Barek, Anna Unterberger, Lukas Spisser, Iva Höpperger, Fedor Teyml, Marta Manduca, Maria Hofstätter
Seen on: 3.1.2021

Content Note: (attempted) suicide, abortion

Plot:
After several rounds of IVF and no success, Alice (Lavinia Wilson) and Niklas (Elyas M’Barek) may have to face the fact that they probably will never have a child of their own. Their gynecologist (Maria Hofstätter) suggest that they take a holiday to take some of the pressure off. They decide to return to Sardinia – the place where they already spent a beautiful holiday earlier in their relationship. Everything would be okay, if not for the family next door to their bungalow. The parents Christl and Romed (Anna Unterberger, Lukas Spisser) are not only loud and seeking conversation, but they also have two children, a sullen teenager David (Fedor Teyml) and a boundary disrespecting girl Denise (Iva Höpperger). Instantly Alice and Niklas’ vacation turns into a field filled with landmines.

Was wir wollten is an excellent character drama that is a little heavy-handed at times and that goes for a plot twist at the end that I didn’t love. But with excellent performances and Kofler’s eye for tension, it is still worth a watch.

The film poster showing Alice (Lavinia Wilson) and Niklas (Elyas M'Barek) cuddled together and swimming in the sea.

Was wir wollten is a quiet, introspective film that chronicles a relationship that has been dying for a while. Maybe it can recover, but not if things just continue as they are. Wilson and M’Barek are both great and their relationship, at once comfortably in-tune and depressingly distant, feels utterly real. Given the state of that relationship, it is rather stifling.

That being said, the film affords Alice more space and explores her feelings in more depth. Niklas’ struggle with the situation is almost completely lost. Fortunately M’Barek does find the spots where he can bring out Niklas’ emotionality as well.

[SPOILERS from here on]

Alice (Lavinia Wilson) and Niklas (Elyas M'Barek) sitting on the beach.

It is with the other couple – Christl and Romed – that I struggled more. They are perfectly characterized, that is not the problem, but they reflect and contradict Alice and Niklas’ situation a little too neatly. They, of course, had their children unplanned and don’t seem too enthusiastic about them, but in a completely normal, albeit not unproblematic way.

It is with the last twist, though, that the film lost me. Christl and Romed’s son David tries to commit suicide, a shock for his parents, but also for Niklas and Alice. The last 15 minutes or so of the film are completely swallowed by the event, and then Niklas and Alice return home and the film is over. It left me wondering about the state of Niklas and Alice’ relationship – is there cause to be more hopeful now, because they got back to loving each other when faced with death? Are we supposed to think that it may be better not to have children if those children end up almost killing themselves? Is this supposed to mirror the revelation that Alice had an abortion (one she regrets now that she isn’t able to conceive anymore which in itself left me a little angry)?

I wish the film just hadn’t gone to that level of drama. It added nothing but confusion for me and I would have rather spent the time with Alice and Niklas instead. But that misstep in the end doesn’t take away from the strong film that came before it.

Niklas (Elyas M'Barek) embracing Alice (Lavinia Wilson).

Summarizing: Despite some issues, very good.

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