With stunning visuals and sublimely constructed character depth, Center Of My World (Die Mitte der Welt) will immerse you in a dreamlike whirlwind of emotions, dark secrets and intricate relationships. Based on Andreas Steinhöfel’s homonymous novel, the motion picture does not shy away from wholeheartedly tackling the book’s most heartrending scenes and themes, piecing together one of the most tasteful and phenomenal coming-of-age stories in German cinema. Jakob Erwa’s film delves into a variety of abstract and controversial topics like abandonment, young gay relationships and self-discovery, all of which cleverly intertwine in its mesmerising cinematography and leave you with a sense of quiet surrender by its closing reel.
The past is locked and hidden behind new romance and friendships for seventeen-year-old Phil (Louis Hofmann), a teenager whose family issues slowly resurface and creep back up into his daily life when he returns to his provincial German village. Reunited with his eccentric mother, Glass (Sabine Timoteo), and his glum, withdrawn sister, Dianne (Ada Philine Stappenbeck), Phil realises that something has deeply changed since his earlier joyous childhood. Not only is his relationship with his sister now flat and distant, but his mother also seems vacant and distraught most of the time. The film retains its mystery throughout the slow-burning, but intense plot development and still manages to hold your interest and depict a harrowing story, without spoon-feeding the viewer too many hints or melodrama.
A more cheerful reunion takes place with the boy’s flamboyant, pink-haired friend, Kat (Svenja Jung). The two seem to be closer than Phil is with his actual sister as they cook, talk about life and go shopping together. During one of their after-class hangouts, Phil sees his newfound crush, Nicholas (Jannik Schümann) for the first time. It soon becomes apparent that the teenager is out and wholeheartedly accepted and loved as a gay young man. In fact, the film’s overall depiction of homosexuality is that it’s fully embraced by the community and perceived as something minor or trivial. The only time this almost utopian view is challenged is when Nicholas looks somewhat apprenehensive after telling Phil that he hasn’t come out to his parents yet. Erwa’s objective doesn’t seem to have any tangency with social LGBT issues and really not even with the distinct portrayal of gay relationships. The prelude to Nicholas and Phil’s romance is completely overlooked, while their interactions are mostly limited to scenes that solely serve character development. However, this isn’t an entirely fruitless approach, as the film is centered more on family, soul-searching and relationships in general. In fact, drawing too much attention to the minute details of the two boys’ relationship would have taken away from the movie’s emotional weight and derailed it into an ordinary and predictable adolescent romance.
The plot, albeit dynamic, does not have anything atypical or remarkably special about it – boy meets boy, they become a couple and later have a falling out. What keeps the viewer interested and even glued to the screen is the visually-gripping way in which the story is told, as well as the breathtaking performances. The secondary characters often bring more depth and secrecy to the story than the protagonists and keep you fully engaged even after the gay relationship between Phil and Nicholas is no longer in the spotlight. Nonetheless, it goes without saying that the movie wouldn’t be the same without its exceptionally talented cast – each scene is excellent and engrossing, drawing you further and further into the story world. Although every single performance is riveting and unique, Sabine Timoteo’s acting and her character’s alluring quirkiness truly stand out as the guiding force for the rest of the cast.
There’s nothing quite as enticing as this year’s BFI Flare Festival selection – Center Of My World (Die Mitte der Welt), along with its fascinating cinematography, remains one of my personal favorites due to its candid and refreshing approach to gay relationships, as well as its memorable and enveloping performances. Despite using a teenagey framework, which could have easily diverted the film into a bland kitsch romance, Erwa sets the bar high and proves that any type of setting can be molded into a masterpiece with the right tools and sensibility.