A drive towards productivity and being more efficient is fertile ground for filmmakers looking to create a dystopia and so we have it with Ruth Mader’s latest, and in all fairness terribly titled, Life Guidance, a film which tells the story of a successful man who wants for nothing more and is punished by the world around him for it.
This is a subjective point of view but one of the most interesting things about Life Guidance is the fact that the world our lead Alexander (Fritz Karl) inhabits is one which really does not appear to be all that bad. He has a loving wife, a son who despite being rather aggressive in playing football with he appears to have a good relationship with and a job which allows him some rather lovely looking shirts, a great house and a nice car but it is the world’s insistence in asking him for me which starts an existential crisis in him.
This may sound like first world problems and indeed they are but everyone is the hero of their own story and it is easy to relate to in some ways. He is not consumed by greed, he is happy with what he has as are many people in life but the way the working world can infect your personal space, be that through unpaid overtime, taking home work with you or just worrying about your next day is something which is extrapolated out here into something which has a form presence in Life Guidance, a body affiliated with the Government which looks to get people back on track when they start stalling.
Life Guidance themselves are painted in a way many corporate entities want to be seen as, kind, benevolent and willing to help as long as the line is eventually towed and this along with many aspects of the film feel only slightly left of centre of the reality we face today. Herein lies the key problem with the film, it paints this gleaming world for Alexander to live in but it never quite ignites in the way the skilful direction seems to want it to, instead the film makes pains to make Life Guidance themselves appear evil and inescapable but Alexander is never put through the wringer. His encounters are ominous but never explode, he finds himself among society’s outcasts but just as easily gets back to his home again, there is a lack of hardship here which makes it difficult to find empathy.
Mader’s sense of tone and atmosphere really is second-to-none however. Sounds in the world form the basis of music cues, the sharp, gleaming lines of the buildings, interiors and even cars make for a world which looks modern but also too perfect and this contrasts nicely with the more earthy environs seen when Alexander goes exploring the literal and metaphoric fringes of society.
Performances are also strong, Karl is a terrific corporate everyman, a sort of mix of Colin Firth and Dominic West in appearance who feels both potentially sympathetic but also oddly punchable and Florian Teichtmeister is fantastic as the malevolent face of Life Guidance, someone who you can never quite tell where his loyalties really lie, a German Burke from Aliens if you will.
Life Guidance doesn’t really say a lot you don’t already know but at the same time its an involving while in the moment affair which gets by on mood, look and performance more than narrative but is worthy of your time if the story interests you.