Two cute porcelain kittens are smashed to smithereens on the screen as a slightly sinister voice-over tells us: ‘When everything’s destroyed, all that remains for each particle is to revolve around itself,’ Such is the fate of the characters in SEX, PITY AND LONELINESS, Lars Montag’s bleak yet simultaneously exhilarating adaptation of Helmut Krausser’s 2009 novel, a LA RONDE of contemporary German angst and frustrations.
As with the novel, the film’s original German title (EINSAMKEIT UND SEX UND MITLEID) is actually the other way round, the ‘loneliness’ coming first. This defines the Pfennig family whose dysfunctional existence is responsible for a lot of the spun-off action. Father Robert (Rainer Bock) is trapped in a loveless marriage, with beekeeping his only consolation as the family prepares to downsize. Meanwhile, his out-of-control teenage daughter Swenjta (Lilly Wiedemann) is fending off the attentions of two boys, one of them the forlorn and tormented Christian Johannes (Aaron Hilmer), the other the lascivious Mahmood (Hussein Eliraqui). She also has to deal with her teacher Eckhardt (Bernhard Schutz) who has been duly dismissed for inappropriate behaviour.
After a wonderfully funny meltdown in his local supermarket (prompted by the absence of a new variety of Kettle Chips from the shelves), Eckhardt’s desperation leads him both to anger management classes and to create a sort of ‘anger shop’, patronised by several of the film’s characters, where they can take out their rage with a sledgehammer on domestic and office furniture (especially photocopiers). Having dealt with Eckhardt, the dull supermarket manager Konig (Peter Schneider) tries to impress his computer date, the artist Janine (Katia Burkle) by bigging up the anecdote at a silent disco, but she’s only interested in having sex in a disabled toilet. Janine’s models, whom she literally paints as still lives, include Robert Pfennig—of all the likely customers she’d spotted in a DIY store, he looked the saddest—and call-girl Vivian (Lara Mandoki) whose boyfriend Vincent (Eugen Bauder) is hired by Konig’s ex-wife (Eva Lobau) for an explicit but also comic sex session. Rarely will a robot vacuum cleaner have elicited such pain and laughter.
Eckhardt’s dishevelled flat, where his parrot repeatedly says ‘Little bitch’…
And so the connections proliferate, driving on towards the ‘Pity’ of the bittersweet conclusion, where all the characters take turns in singing to the camera in an echo of MAGNOLIA’s ‘Wise Up’, only here it’s an ironic hymn to self-absorption (‘I’m everything that I want… Nothing can keep myself from me’). Scenes of self-help—at the gym, in the sauna and other bizarre German cleansing methods, both external and internal—punctuate the action throughout.
Finely cast by Montag and shot by Mathias Neumann to contrast the antiseptic railway stations and featureless apartment blocks with the warmth of Mahmood’s home and Eckhardt’s dishevelled flat (where his parrot repeatedly says ‘Little bitch’), SEX, PITY AND LONELINESS is a warts-and-all panorama of German city life, in which racism is never far from the surface, especially among the police, while possessing eight different sorts of gin and three types of tonic is thought to make a sad man calling himself ‘Fire Accelerant XL’ irresistible on the dating circuit to a sad woman who has Photoshopped a nicer smile onto her face.