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FIRST TIME [The Time for All but Sunset – VIOLET]

Arthouse drama expertly uses a circle train in Hamburg to represent the painful feeling of romantic tension - live from Locarno


Riding on public transport can be an awkward yet often liberating experience, allowing us to experience the world go by while also trying to avert our gaze from other strangers. FIRST TIME [The Time for All but Sunset – VIOLET] captures this mixture perfectly, creating an arthouse romance about the endless possibilities found on while sitting by yourself on a train.

FIRST TIME starts in fantasy-land, playing a Coca-Cola commercial from 1987 soundtracked by Robin Beck’s eponymous song. The clips are unabashedly romantic, beautiful lovers swooning by the beach while clutching the world’s most popular soft drink. Hamburg’s U3, a circular subway line that spans 25 stations, provides the ‘reality’. The majority of FIRST TIME is comprised of an epic simulated one-take where two young boys (Aaron Hilmer and Fynn Grossmann) sit opposite one another, sneaking glimpses as and when they can. Soundtracked by slowly-rising dreamy indie pop, First Time asks us to sit and watch as these two boys feel the pangs and flushes of attraction. With no dialogue or text, we are not told what to think, simply to observe and come to our own conclusions.

If it sounds forbidding, especially for 50 minutes, FIRST TIME is actually a lot of fun. It’s ostensible arthouse, installation-favourable form is prodded and poked, even subverted, with moments of incongruity that belong in a romantic comedy. The film is proof that if you have some form of tension at the heart of a movie, you can easily stretch conventional cinematic patience. Neither teen wants to get off the train, yet neither of them wants to make the first move either. The overall result is an expertly rendered depictions of young, awkward and painful romance that’s as tense as anything in a Hitchcock movie. Even in liberal Hamburg, one sees the reluctance of young men to approach another romantically for fear of being violently rebuked. Both actors Hilmer and Grossmann have so much to do physically here, pulling off that acute feeling of being torn between emotions rather well.

The frame of the train window acts as a layer between the boy’s world and wider Hamburg; an anchor for the passing of time and a silent Greek chorus. Pay close attention and the repetition of the train line is complemented by insider references that gain a strangely cosmic meaning, suggesting that advertisements have a strange way of permeating our collective unconscious.

It’s worth admitting that I’m very biased towards anything train-related. Whether it’s Before Sunrise (Richard Linklater, 1995), Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945) , A Station for Two (Eldar Ryazanov, 1983) or Night Train to Munich (Carol Reed, 1940),trains are the most romantic and beguiling form of transportation. For the ultimate site-specific screening, I even watched the screener on a train, allowing both background and foreground to blend into one another. Despite my favourable disposition towards anything train-related, FIRST TIME doesn’t just coast on pretty images and handsome young boys, but provides an experience both emotionally and intellectually stimulating (as well as being rather funny). Conceptual artist Nicolas Schmidt, who already impressed me at Berlinale 2020 with his strange short Inflorescence, showing a flower fluttering in the wind near an allotment as Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over” plays, has stepped up to another level of sophistication with this gorgeous medium-length effort.

FIRST TIME plays in Pardo Di Domani – Concorso internazionale at Locarno Film Festival, running between 4th – 14th August.

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