Against a backdrop of snow and ice, a film noir portrays the madness of science
September 2023: In the year 1962, Johannes Leinert, a young German scientist, travels to a physics congress in the Swiss Alps. Accompanied by his doctoral supervisor, he books into a 5-star hotel, previously used as a tuberculosis sanatorium not dissimilar to the ‘Schatzalp’ in Thomas Mann’s novel ‘The Magic Mountain’ (Der Zauberberg). The guest of honour at the congress, an Iranian scientist, is set to reveal a ground-breaking theory of quantum mechanics. But when the German physicists arrive, the Iranian guest is nowhere to be found. In the absence of a new theory to be discussed, the physics community turns to skiing.
Johannes, however, remains at the hotel to work on his doctoral thesis, but soon finds himself distracted, developing a special fascination with Karin, a young jazz pianist. She seems to know things about him - things that he thought only he knew. When one of the German physicists is found dead one morning, two inspectors arrive on the scene, investigating a possible murder. As increasingly bizarre cloud formations appear in the sky, the pianist disappears without a trace and Johannes finds himself dragged into a sinister story of false memories, real nightmares, impossible love and a dark, roaring mystery hidden beneath the mountains.
The film The Theory of Everything (Die Theorie von Allem) by director Timm Kröger, who is best known for his previous work The Council of Birds (Zerrumpelt Herz), was first shown in September at the 2023 Venice International Film Festival (Biennale Cinema 2023). The movie, which was shot in the Austrian Alps in black and white, stars Jan Bülow, as Johannes Leinert; Olivia Ross, as Karin Honig; Hanns Zischler, as Dr Julius Strathen; and David Bennent, as Commissar Arnold, among others. It will go on general release in Germany on 26 October 2023.
Timm Kröger was attracted to the story, which, in his words, was deeply rooted in the 20th century - that long, cruel, weird and wonderful century which held on to the idea of the individual genius guided by fate – by its tragic tale of an undiscovered genius.
While The Theory of Everything did not win any prizes at the Biennale, it was generally well reviewed by critics.
An overlong but enjoyable metaphysical thriller that delivers pastiche so meticulous, it becomes its own source of supremely cinematic pleasure.
It is 1962, in the mountainous Grisons canton of Switzerland. The Cold War is at its coldest, its influence extending across this neutral Mitteleuropean region like the thick snow that blankets the slopes. Avalanches are frequent. Storms even more so. Strange skidding cloud formations arc over the uncanny valley where a remote, creakily luxe hotel is playing host to a mysterious physics congress. Still in the throes of finishing his “esoteric” thesis, Johannes (Jan Bülow) has come along on the coat-tails of his crotchety supervisor, Dr. Strathen (Hanns Zischler), who brooks none of Johannes’ “speculative” nonsense about multiverses. “Shut up and calculate!” he barks, red-penning whole sections of Johannes’ work.
The Hollywood Reporter
“Like his 2014 debut, The Council of Birds, Kröger’s gorgeously made follow-up is a small-scale fantasy that toys with Germany’s troubled and mysterious past. Birds was set in the 1930s, when the Nazis began to take power. Theory takes place in the early 60s, nearly two decades after WWII, yet there still seem to be a few fascists lingering around old Europe.
This fiendishly clever and inventive sci-fi embraces the possibility that a person or object can have one or more duplicates. In German filmmaker Timm Kröger’s assured hands, all this plays like a journey of scientific discovery or a descent into madness – occasionally both at the same time – and his Hitchcockian style is story-enhancing rather than show-offy pastiche. The score channels Hitchcock’s composer Bernard Hermann to elegant effect, and the crisp black-and-white cinematography lends the hotel’s snowy surrounds a blinding dazzle and noirish shadows to its interiors.
You can tell that Timm Kroeger was a cinematographer before he was a director. The German filmmaker’s second feature, following 2014’s well-regarded The Council of Birds, is stunningly well shot, its lighting inventive, and the organisation of its images as deliberate as any film in competition for the Golden Lion at this year’s Venice Film Festival. It deserves to be in the running for the top prize.
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