Starving artist and expat Charlie is in desperate need of 800 euros in writer-director Jordan Blady’s darkly comedic first feature. To the audience’s great amusement, Blady’s narcissistic protagonist is willing to go to extraordinary lengths to get ahead. The sonnet-length, 74-minute indie debuted at the LA Film Festival in 2018.
Berlin-based Charlie (Dasha Nekrasova) is a finalist for a poetry grant along with her rival poet Sylvie (Nadine Dubois). Charlie works as a barista during the day, where she’s able to write poems in her spare time. At night, she attends poetry readings with Sylvie and Nathan (Matthias Renger).
Charlie, a bohemian with a keen sense of style, is a regular shopper at boutique clothing stores. Eventually, her Park Avenue taste, thrift-store budget, and penchant for kleptomania get her into trouble with the German authorities. Charlie can either pay an exorbitant fine or leave the country and lose out on the poetry grant.
There’s a refreshingly naturalistic flow to Blady’s dialogue; characters jaunt between subjects, shrewdly waiting to reveal their real intentions. Charlie, slippery and shameless about her slipperiness, confidently uses those around her. Remo (Johannes Frick), Charlie’s roommate and the film’s conscience, is regularly bewildered by her indiscreet selfishness. Frick quietly brings a remarkable performance to a generic 20something in search of his Prince Charming.
As audience members catch on to Charlie’s conceit, her disregard for others becomes a point of increasing hilarity. When she isn’t attempting to con her way to 800 euros, she’s manipulating the shady men in her life. Her boyfriend Franz (Moritz Vierboom) is in a committed relationship with the wealthy Marianne (Lena Reinhold). The other third of Charlie’s love triangle is Oliver (Morgan Krantz), an old flame from the United States. The relationship fizzled out after Oliver had a series of affairs.
Aside from Remo, each of the men in Charlie’s life is deeply inadequate. Oliver is a boudoir photographer who seduces his subjects. Franz is financially dependent on his other girlfriend. Both men are philanderers. Socially clueless Nathan also can’t help but make uncomfortable passes at Charlie. As the center of these affections, Charlie isn’t much of a catch, herself. Things are tough out there, especially for girls with personality disorders.
Nekrasova plays the self-obsessed poet with a Daria-like energy. She makes for an atypical star, but her casual line delivery only adds to Blady’s sharp script. When Charlie has a tooth knocked out late in the film, a German dentist provides her with a golden replacement. The addition is a stroke of makeup and hairstyling genius. Nekrasova cunningly wields her gold-flecked smile more effectively than Gary Oldman jiggled the Winston Churchill chops in Darkest Hour.
The first film for any director should appear amateurish around the edges. Clean work from cinematographer Christian Huck, costume designer Marina Melentieva, and composer Aaron Short shore up Blady’s vision. Softness of Bodies is a character study disguised as a refreshingly short and rewarding black comedy.