Vlissingen 2023 Review: DARK SATELLITES

Thomas Stuber's adaptation focuses on loneliness and connections, but doesn't really say all that much.

Editor, Europe; Rotterdam, The Netherlands (@ardvark23)
Vlissingen 2023 Review: DARK SATELLITES
One of the themes this year at the Film by the Sea festival in Vlissingen was "films based on literature". And one of the International Premieres being shown as part of this theme is Thomas Stuber's Dark Satellites, based on Clemens Meyer's German-language novel 'Die Stillen Trabanten'. The book is a bundle of short stories which follow several people in the city of Leipzig, all solitary, all suddenly confronted with their loneliness by meeting unlikely soulmates. Stuber, with Meyer's help on the script, adapted three of those stories for his film version. The end result is a well acted, but very leaden and melancholy look at humanity and relationships.

VL2023-darksatellites-ext1.jpgWe see security guard Erik, who during his nightly rounds keeps meeting the young Ukrainian refugee Marika and can't stop thinking about her, in both a sexual and a more fatherly way. We see train carriage cleaner Christa, who always takes a few drinks at the end of her shift together with hairdresser Birgitt. And we meet snackbar owner Jens who secretly smokes cigarettes at nightfall with his married neighbor Aischa, a woman who recently converted to Islam.

All of these people are surprised by the sudden emotions they start feeling, the need to be with the other person. For Erik, his right-wing beliefs and sense of dereliction of duty clash with his attraction for foreigner Marika, and the protection he feels she needs. Christa sees her burgeoning romantic cravings thwarted by Birgitt's fickle behavior, leading to despondency. And for Erik the plot thickens when he becomes friends with Aischa's husband Hamed, making the illicit meetings with the emotionally unstable Aischa super awkward.

As stated earlier, all roles are well-acted, including a welcome return to acting by Nastassja Kinski (who plays Birgitt). But most of the characters in the film take specific, obvious actions which make matters worse for themselves. It makes these people hard to identify with and your empathy may dwindle after a while. Director Stuber livens things up a bit by adding illusions and memories, but it does little to make his film easier to watch.

Loneliness can be a terrible thing even when the person suffering from it isn't aware of it. We as humans need other people. But that point has been made in plenty of other films as well, and many of those will get that point across without having to hammer it home. If seeing people wallow in misery is your thing, rejoice, as this is the movie for you. For me, even with the constant shifting between the three story lines, Dark Satellites started to stall in its second half.
The paying public in Vlissingen awarded it a very respectable audience rating of 3.8 out of 5 though.

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