Paths (Ein Weg), the feature directorial debut from Chris Miera, initially introduces itself as a low key relationship drama, navigating the turbulent long term partnership between Andreas (Mike Hoffman) and Martin (Mathis Reinhardt) as they adjust to life now their 19 year old son has flown the nest. Most directorial debuts would focus solely on this scenario, dealing with the petty squabbles and drunken disagreements that help characterise the stages of a relationship once the honeymoon period has long since finished.
Instead of crafting an intimate character piece, Miera goes one better, slowly telling the story of a decade long partnership not via key moments, but via the intimate ones that should feel incidental. In his hands, these smaller moments all add up to a believable account of how a once passionate relationship eventually winded up feeling so cold, one half of the couple casually laughs at the other for suggesting its still perfect during a romantic evening. The film Paths (Ein Weg) most recalls is Derek Cianfrance’s masterful 2010 film Blue Valentine, albeit over the course of a longer and more subtly dispiriting relationship.
The narrative is documented in four disparate chapters, recounting the partnership over the course of 17 years, from the first kiss at an alt-rock gig, to an epilogue reflecting on everything that came before. This structure is a bold choice, but is actually the key to what makes the film work- depicting an intimate story across an epic canvas spanning close to two decades (the second chapter of the film is preceded by a title card taking us back 13 years) helps make it one of the stronger character studies I’ve seen recently. Most impressively, there’s no bluntly obvious foreshadowing echoing through each of the different time frames that visibly plants the seeds that lead to the couple falling out of love. Everything feels natural, which makes it all the more foreboding.
Without showcasing any major incidents in the couple’s relationship, the screenplay (co-written by Miera with Philipp Österle) still makes its breakdown feel tangible via what we do see, while also depicting enough passion to make it believable that this couple would stay together so long- which it does in visually arresting ways. For example, in so many gay-oriented films, there’s a tendency to make the sex scenes as explicit as possible.
What’s refreshing about Paths (Ein Weg) is how they actually feel tender; in the earliest chronological chapter, when the pair get intimate for the first time, Mierra’s camera feels restricted to the upper half of their bodies- a striking choice that actually helps emphasise the love between the pair, and not just their sexual chemistry. Similar techniques are utilised for other intimate sequences, but with the body language more awkward, despite the pair having been in a long term relationship- one of the little details that helps make this partnership’s disintegration feel realistic.
If there is a flaw, it is that the scenes of passion and happiness in coupledom are mostly restricted to this one chapter. This does enough to make it believable that they remain together viewed on their own, but when surrounded by extensive sequences of passive aggression and distrust, it does lessen their impact. This relationship has more toxic elements than positive ones from what we are presented, and there are moments when the all encompassing negativity between the two stretches the credulity of them remaining together for years to come.
Of course, that this mostly remains tangible is down to the strong performances from the two leads, both of whom give quietly brooding performances that work perfectly in tandem- even if the characters they are portraying often fail to have the same mutual co-operation. The strength of their performances is enough to make it easy to overlook the fact a couple of actors in their mid 40’s are also portraying themselves in their early thirties in one chapter, looking ever so slightly out of place among other people in their supposed age group.
Paths (Ein Weg) is a mostly successful directorial debut, with a sense of narrative ambition rarely found in low key character studies of this nature- as well as picturesque cinematography that helps make this one of the most visually striking debuts to emerge recently. As the first film I’ve seen from this year’s Outfest lineup, it is nothing less than utterly striking due to its gorgeous aesthetics and commendable lead performances. It may not always achieve its lofty ambitions of weaving together a relationship’s disintegration across four unrelated chapters, but it gets really close to doing so- and that’s more than can be said of many high concept efforts, let alone directorial debuts.
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Chris Miera