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Everybody Wants To Be Loved (Alle Wollen Geliebt Werden)

Immature family members take advantage of a mother with a giant heart; German dramedy has touching performances, as well as the ability to portray domestic life with naturalism – live from the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


The Tallinn First Feature Competition continues with a charming and personal debut from Germany. Newcomer Katharina Woll presents us with a well-constructed narrative which follows a middle-aged mother as she gradually learns to embrace her own will, instead of taking orders from the cluster of obnoxious characters that surrounds her. Life is full of surprises, and it has never been so obviously so. The last weeks have seen the arrival of countless life-altering news, which are throwing Ina into a grave state of confusion. Indeed, she is faced with multiple serious decisions to take and is struggling to keep her life in order. She works as a professional therapist, but has clearly not done herself the work of self-analysis required to lead a peaceful life freed from anxiety. No, she strikes one as an endearing and selfless individual, with a heart so large people take advantage of her, and who has never had the audacity to take control of her life and obey her own instincts.

Her partner, Reto, an academic, has been promoted to the rank of Professor in a university in Finland. This means that the couple, who live with Ina’s daughter, will have to relocate soon, with Ina having to find a new job, potentially in academia as well. Aside from not getting along with her stepfather Reto, Ina’s daughter is a relentlessly egotistical teenager, with frequent anger fits, who fails to empathise with her mother’s afflictions. To Ina’s dismay, the daughter insists that she will not follow them, rather choosing to stay with her careless father in Germany. But the potential move to Finland is not the only factor which is threatening the tight balance of Ina’s life. She has been feeling sick for the last weeks and is starting to panic, for the clinic is never able to give her the test results she so impatiently wants to read. Every time she visits the health centre, a receptionist gives her a different excuse, leaving her with no other choice than to swiftly lapse over the counter and try to steal the elusive envelope. The health factor is combined with doubts she holds regarding her relationship with Reto: is it worth changing all of her life plans for him ? Does she love him enough? Her state of disarray is not made easier when Reto proposes to marry her: a gesture she interprets as a manipulative technique to persuade her to move to Finland with him. With pressing matters colliding into her dizzy head, she finds it harder and harder to concentrate on her patient’s rambling (and extremely uninteresting) monologues.

Ina’s mother is also larger-than-life, bored, retired and rich, she finds nothing better to do than to constantly disturb her daughter’s therapy sessions by showing up at her doorstep, aggressively ringing the doorbell. The film is driven forward by the events leading up to Ina’s mother’s 70th birthday party. All characters of this family saga are present – a situation which rarely leaves one unscarred. The party eventually becomes the battleground where accumulated tension is finally let out, in a series of distinct, staccato-like convulsions – a glass is spilt on Ina’s mother’s dress, a fight erupts sparked by an inoffensive game of tennis, an accidentally-delivered punch damages Ina’s nose, and finally. As if the party’s mood could not get any worse, a karaoke song supposedly designed to bring daughter and mother together becomes a punk performance-piece by Ina aggressively taking over the microphone. She sounds and looks more like Nina Hagen than the innocuous middle-class therapist with charming ginger locks that she is.

Cinematographer Matan Radin and director Katharina Woll do an excellent job at staging and shooting scenes stolen from the intimacy of domestic life. Slow zooms occur at times, a technique forsaken in recent years, discreetly immersing viewers into Ina’s perspective. In a role that challenges her previous work, Anne Ratte-Polle is splendid as the protagonist. She shines with the docility of a kind-hearted mother. The horde of characters which populate her life are also well portrayed: the attention-seeking grandmother, her capricious teenage daughter, her fiancé – a man-child with snobbish traits who constantly reminds everyone that he is a doctor –, and the ex-husband – a rock’n roll father who, while representing the lax parent also stands in for the classic (almost cliché-like) father-figure with no real awareness of the depth of his responsabilites.

On the negative side, Everybody Wants To Be Loved represents yet another film about the day-to-day life of an affluent family, reflecting on the problems that come with educating teenagers while maintaining successful relationships and fulfilling careers. But while Woll shows us a narrative that is clearly personal to her, she does not give her work a distinct voice. At times, the film feels rather aimless and cold – naturalism for the sake of it is sometimes simply not enough. An element of style needed to pervade what otherwise remains a conventional family drama with a few touching glimpses. Filmmakers should always think about what they could be bringing to the table, and about how their work can stand out. Having said this, naturalistic films like these sometimes acquire greater significance in the future when they become historical artefacts reflective of an era, a specific context, a generation of people. For now, though, a more personal and creative touch was needed in order to elevate this personal story to the stage of the truly universal.

Everybody Wants To Be Loved just premiered at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

By Liván García-Duquesne - 22-11-2022

Livan Garcia-Duquesne is a UK-based French-Spanish filmmaker and writer. He holds an MPhil in Film & Screen Studies from the University of Cambridge and his academic work has been centred around t...

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