At a party midway through Jordan Blady’s Softness of Bodies, protagonist Charlie (Dasha Nekrasova) flippantly asks her roommate Remo (Johannes Frick) if he thinks he could kill someone. “I always pictured you as more of a narcissist than a sociopath,” he replies nonchalantly. Charlie is certainly not a good person--the very first scene finds her attempting to shoplift clothes at a boutique--but exactly how bad she is poses the central question of the movie.
An American in Berlin
The city of Berlin, from its cafes and ice cream shops to its shopping malls and universities, makes for a lush background to Charlie’s misadventures. In the country on an artist’s visa, she has not bothered to learn more than a smattering of German, yet laments the lack of nuanced English conversation available to the first native anglophone she encounters.
Just as she takes the surrounding culture and language for granted, Charlie doesn’t hesitate to use the people around her. Feckless yet with a certain surly, wheedling charm, the only folks immune to her charisma are Sylvie (Nadine Dubois), her rival for a coveted writing grant, and Marianne (Lena Reinhold), the steady girlfriend of the cad (Moritz Vierboom) she’s having an affair with. Even then, the two-timed Marianne eventually decides she’s better off without her erstwhile beau, being more concerned with a pair of shoes Charlie had stolen early on.
Softness of Bodies Vulnerable to Sharp Corners
The shoes are the McGuffin of the story, distilling the plot from quirky comedy to something close to noir. Other elements, introduced seemingly at chance, reveal greater significance as disparate threads weave together: among them, the boyfriend repeatedly blowing off Charlie’s invitations to her poetry readings; her ex (Morgan Krantz) arriving from LA to put on a photography exhibition; and an €800 fine (€800 more than she has on hand, incidentally) when she is eventually caught red-handed shoplifting.
All of this could easily be the stuff of a slice-of-life coming-of-age sort of tale, but in a shocking yet utterly natural third-act twist Blady ups the stakes, throwing everyone down a Coen brothers-esque rabbit hole. The final fifteen minutes are simultaneously an ordeal of rising tension, a feast of subverted genre tropes--and exactly what Charlie’s characterization might lead the audience to expect.
Things You Can Buy, Things You Can Steal
Not every question gets a clear answer, not every character’s arc gets neatly resolved. People make stupid, obvious mistakes, and not everyone gets what they deserve. Softness of Bodies has a satirical tone, but just what it’s satirizing--twenty-somethings? artistic types? society? the commodification of human beings under capitalism?--is left as an exercise to the viewer.
The poem Charlie ultimately delivers in her bid to win the writing grant (and with it a claim to “real” adulthood) speaks of things she wants, things she could buy if she had the money, things she might steal if the whim strikes. But it also acknowledges that, however calloused and hardened, a human being is still a fragile, temporary thing.
Photos courtesy of SOFTNESS OF BODIES
About the Author:
Harold Jaffe is a poet, playwright, amateur trapeze artist, freelance greeting card designer, and now, unexpectedly, a theater critic. He earned a BS in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Olin College and since returning to Chicago has worked extensively with Cave Painting Theater Company and the late great Oracle Productions. His chapbook Perpetual Emotion Machine is now available at Women & Children First, and his reviews of shows around town are available right here.