If you ever get the feeling that life is a messy business, guessed at imprecisely, executed randomly and full of uncertainty and self-recrimination, then there’s a good chance you’ll find a lot to identify with in Josef Hader’s comedy Wild Mouse (Wilde Maus).
Leveraging the general sense of current unease that we are not our own masters but rather at the whim of neo-liberalism, rampant capitalism, and yes, our own foibles and failings, Hader has crafted a film that takes these issues from the headlines into the bedroom, giving them a very personal gleam that shifts, not always smoothly but always with great effect, from farce and black comedy lite to searing emotional introspection and existential despair.
While it has traces of the anxiety-ridden work of Woody Allen and those of his ilk, Wild Mouse, which centres on the aftereffects of esteemed classical music reviewer Georg (Hader) being fired from his job of 25 years at the Express newspaper, a victim of economic rationalisation, tends to move between more impetuous, self-destructive moments when all could be lost, and almost is in one instance, and the clawing attempts by the now-unemployed Georg to fashion a new life, often unsuccessfully, for himself.
It’s in that final respect that the film really finds its feet.
Hader pulls no punches about the damaging effects of having the rug pulled out from under your feet, especially at an age where the penchant and ability to reinvent yourself is not always within reach, and is more likely prone to be held hostage to all manner of trenchant life issues that a younger person, such as his somewhat clueless “culture expert” colleague Redakteurin Fitz (Nora von Waldstätten), is blissfully unaffected by.
By any yardstick, Georg does not handle the loss of purpose that came from his job, nor the entirely unwelcome absence of the prestige and perks (such as free concert tickets) that it brought him at all well.
He doesn’t tell his wife Johanna (Pia Hierzegger) that he no longer has a job, filling his days with fairground rides, newspaper reading and an unlikely nascent friendship with a man who once bulled him Erich (George Friedrich), his subterfuge finding expression through petty sniping arguments and an unwillingness to have the baby the couple have been trying for unsuccessfully for three years.
He also begins an ever-escalating program of intimidation against his old boss Waller (Jörg Hartmann) which begins with keying of his fancy red convertible sports car and slashing of the canopy, graduates to petty vandalism and low-level pranks – the fish in the pool scene is a gem of comic timing – and leads to outright vandalism and an incident at a remote holiday house that tips Georg, not his nemesis, over the edge.
Rather than resorting to ever-increasing levels of farce and comic desperation, which is where a British or American production might have gone, Wild Mouse never really goes for the farcical throttle preferring instead to meander between the moments of retributive mania, and the calmer, far more reflective moments which see Georg and Johanna both questioning where they are in life in a total information vacuum from each other, and Erich and Georg’s attempt to get the titular ride off the ground as a going concern.
This may be frustrating for some audience members who will expect the vengeful moments to take centre stage, fuelled by the existential angst and day-to-day breakdown of Georg’s world, which despite some positive small moments, never quite recovers from his summary, unforeseen dismissal from his job.
But it works structurally and thematically, mirroring life which is often a chaotic mix of half-formed decisions, full steps backward, half steps forwards, impetuous decisions and halting regrets; none of us, save for the truly determined, ever handle crises in an ever-escalating linear progression, and Wild Mouse reflects this authentically with its swings between the two dominant narrative dynamics in the film.
It can be disorienting, and at times, you are waiting for the other existentially-wrought shoe to drop; but by and large, the two seemingly disparate elements work, giving is moments of high farce and abject sadness, sometimes in the one scene, as evidenced in the near to final act romp through the snow, mere moments after a poorly-planned but emotionally-resonant suicide attempt.
Where Wild Mouse becomes truly affecting is in the way it marries its wilder farcical moments and its more reflective introspective scene to paint a picture of the tenuous nature of one man’s life and that of the people around him.
When life is good, we all assume the good times will roll on forever, that there is a solidity and substance to both the structure of our lives and the many elements that make them up, that is damn near unassailable; but that is of course far from reality, something that only becomes apparent when something as catastrophic as a job loss or failing marriage breaks the mirage of invincibility.
In its exploration of the house of cards nature of life, Wild Mouse portrays, with real honesty and judiciously-placed black humour, how easy it is for the entire structure of things to come tumbling messily down, and that when that happens the way back doesn’t seem readily apparent, so much so that the belief in its very existence is challenged at the core of our beings.
But as Georg displays in perfectly calibrate, often subtlely-powerful performance by Rolf Hader, in both hilarious and profoundly moving, coming back is possible; it just may not take the form you expect and its realisation may come at the end of a series of life events that leave chastened and ready to accept your new, altogether transformed, reality.