R29 Invites You To A Premiere Screening Of...

Photo: Courtesy of MUBI.
To celebrate the upcoming theatrical release of Rachel Lang’s award-winning debut film, BADEN BADEN, we're hosting a premiere screening with our pals MUBI and Birds Eye View at Curzon Soho and we’d love you to join us!

The screening will take place on Tuesday 20th September at 8.15pm at Curzon Soho, Shaftesbury Avenue, and will be followed by a conversation with Rachel Lang hosted by author and film critic Sophie Mayer.

Tickets are £5, book here. (Places limited)

MUBI are also offering R29 readers a free, one-month subscription to stream films on mubi.com

Check out the trailer below, alongside a birds eye view review of the film by Laura Adams, former programmer of Bfi Southbank and LFF, and now Directors UK events director.
Baden Baden

Belgium/France 2016. Dir. Rachel Lang. 96min

After rave reviews at Berlin International Film Festival, Rachel Lang’s debut feature Baden Baden is released in cinemas and at home with MUBI, the curated movie streaming and download service this September.

This refreshing, often darkly funny, poignant film follows Ana, a young woman in her late twenties finding her way through life, played by Lang’s frequent collaborator Salomé Richard.

Baden Baden begins with an intimately focussed sequence, the camera on Ana as she drives. For a good three minutes we relax into Ana’s company, in the front passenger seat as she begins to swear at being lost, being late. She arrives at her destination to be screamed at violently by a production coordinator on the film she is low down in the pecking order of the crew for. She cries, but drives away. By not lingering on this drama and moving on to the next scene, Lang immediately avoids the expected plot lines and gender stereotyped outcomes whilst still giving voice to Ana’s experiences as a young woman.

It could be an act of revenge when Ana drives off with the production’s rented Porsche whilst the wrap party goes on, but any connotations of theft or freedom-gained are eschewed by simply taking Ana on a trip home. A wonderful realisation about Baden Baden is that this story, that of a young person gaining emotional progression by returning home, is one that has of course been told countless times in cinema. Usually it revolves around a romantic relationship, or a goal to be attained plot-line. But Ana doesn’t agonise to anyone about the direction of her life; or why she’s returned home; why she hasn’t yet got a career or a partner. She has male friends and female friends; sexual and non-sexual relationships; family members she loves and will do anything for, and others that she avoids. She has awkward conversations with her mother, her ex’s mother, her ex – and easy conversations with other old flames, friends and strangers. She’s giving of herself, whilst expecting others to be as free with their time and friendship as she is – and that is a wonderful thing to see.
Photo: Courtesy of MUBI.

With short, dark, curly hair, no makeup, and slim in unremarkable outfits such as jeans, a T-shirt and trainers, or shorts and a vest – Ana avoids being read as feminine or sexualised. A lover, one that’s bad for her as it happens, describes her hair as ugly, and her outfits as tomboyish and her brother tells her he’s going to take her to get new clothes. She doesn’t heed a word of it, continuing to wear, and look, as she likes.

The film takes structure from the emotional journey of Ana, and the bathroom (and life) remodelling that she undertakes when her good natured and slightly mischievous grandmother is hospitalised after a fall. It is the bathroom that the film’s title centres around, as Ana tells her grandmother not to try and get in and out of the bath, that she’ll take her to the spa town of Baden Baden if she wants to splash around in water. The walk-in-shower project provides moments of humour as Ana enlists the help of remarkably clueless DIY store temp Gregoire. Seeing Ana have silent-close toilet seats explained to her in the store is more fun that it should be, and a wonderfully droll take on mansplaining. Deliciously deadpan, Ana nods and says yes when Gregoire tells her, after touring each aspect of the bath showroom extensively, that she must ‘make enquiries’. We periodically return to the process of installing the shower room, affording slapstick fun to creep in to the exchanges with Gregoire, who has offered his help.

A pattern of sequences take shape around this structure, from dialogue with friends and lovers; observing Ana alone; mesmerising dream sequences; to moments of extreme focus such as closing in on Ana squeezing too much ketchup onto her food, disgusting in its unctuousness and imagined taste. As the shower-room takes shape, hints at the reason she originally left town begin to come forward, but importantly, Lang refuses this to be the only part of Ana’s experience. Her ex Boris plays a part in her rediscovery of Strasbourg life, but so too do other lovers, new friends, old friends. Ana searches out the right people for her needs, even if that occasionally leads to being with the wrong person briefly (very briefly in the case of one minuteman sexual encounter) so that she can move past old pain. A scene with her ex Boris’ mother plays this out as strangely pleasing in its excruciating stabs at Ana’s lack of importance, being told how radiant the women that Boris cheated on her with a beatific look on her face throughout.

There’s no stereotypical anxiety from a young mother about Ana taking her little boy out for the day, and no discussions about choices or debates with friends when she needs an abortion. Each of these moments that would perhaps in other films provide whole subplots are lightly explored whilst deeply affecting Ana. It is this subtle approach that also turns gender assumptions on their head; Ana decides to remodel, to ‘fix’ in response to her grandmother’s fall; a male friend chastises his girlfriend for always leaving him to clean out the fridge; Ana persuades builder Amar to give her his phone number despite his misgivings that she’s coming on to him. There is an equal amount of time spent with men as with women for Ana, equal support and chastisement from both genders too. Her friend from the film production visits, prompting a beautiful sequence as the camera closes in on their skin as the two women wash themselves. Ana’s comfort in her own skin is played out literally in scenes like this, and another as she showers with a lover, a playful encounter.

With natural looking lighting and steadicam shots interspersed with sumptuous soft-focus dream sequences and strikingly framed images of Strasbourg’s architecture, Lang continues the episodic structure of Ana’s journey through her directorial style for the film. The soundtrack is ultracool, with La Femme, Django Django and The Rapture featured sparingly. Writer-director Rachel Lang, along with cinematographer Fiona Braillon and editor Sophie Vercruysee, have made one very normal young woman’s experiences mesmerising without falling into the trap of a quirky/ socially anxious/ in-need-of-an-epiphany lead character.

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