Film Review: Jar Full of Life (Vielmachglas)

Who: directed by Florian Ross

Where: German Film Festival

Marlene (Jella Haase) has finished high school, but while her friends have all now moved away to go to university, Marlene is still working part-time at a cinema and spends the rest of her time reading in her childhood bedroom. She feels, as many of us in our late teens and early twenties have felt, hesitant to step over the threshold of adulthood and make her own way in the world. Her older brother, Erik (Matthias Schweighöfer), is the polar opposite, travelling around the globe on an endless adventure and is about to become a published author to boot! When he returns home for a few days before his next trip, Marlene is soon fed up tales of his exotic exploits, as well as her parents’ obvious adoration. In an attempt to sooth her, Erik gives Marlene a present – an empty mason jar, telling her to fill it with stories of her own adventures. While Marlene is initially skeptical, a tragic event finally motivates her to set out on her own and learn to say “yes” to life. Marlene’s subsequent road trip across Germany, during which she rescues a goat, finds new friends, and fills her “jar full of life”, makes for a fun take on a coming-of-age comedy.

Jar Full of Life (Vielmachglas) is director Florian Ross’ first feature-length film, and while his debut is certainly enjoyable, it could be accused of being a little fluffy. German cinema over the past decade or so has done really well at producing serious, hard-hitting films, particularly when putting a human face to political history (think The Lives of Others (2006), The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008), or Hanna’s Sleeping Dogs (2017) and The Silent Revolution (2018), both stand- outs at this years’ German Film Festival). However, when it comes to the more light-hearted end of the spectrum, German offerings have tended to feel a little one-dimensional, and Jar Full of Life is a case in point. While there are some moments of poignancy, overall, Ross aims at a level of depth more akin to an episode of Lizzie McGuire rather than using the feature-length runtime to really squeeze some further meaning or humanity out of the story. Teen coming-of-age movies don’t have to be fluffy and superficial, as demonstrated by English-language classics of the genre such as Pretty in Pink (1986), 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), and more recent contributions such as Girl Asleep (2015) or The Edge of Seventeen (2017). The stand-out films of this genre do a really good job of balancing an accessible, comedic story with their portrayal of the teenage experience as rich, complex, and human. For Jar Full of Life, the moments of comedy remain the heart of the film and its deeper message about overcoming grief and embracing life isn’t given time to sink in.

Despite this shortcoming, the film is carried by some excellent young German acting talent. Jella Haase is a rising star of German cinema and does really well in this lead role, and it’s a pity we don’t get to see more of Matthias Schweighöfer, also an established talent. As a coming of age story, Jar Full of Life falls a little short of the mark, but as a fun, light-hearted summer film, it’s difficult to fault.

3/5

– Felicity Brooks

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