The dual-review film criticism site: first a spoiler-free review, then an in-depth Alternate Take.
Berlinale 2019: The Bra

Reviewed by Simon Ramshaw.

Director Veit Helmer
Length 90 mins
Certificate
Rating *****-----
Filmmaking: 3  Personal enjoyment: 2

Photo from the article I’m sure I’ll be forgiven for being surprised when a dialogue-free Denis Lavant movie about an incredibly dangerous train turns out to be less like Buster Keaton’s The General (1926) and more like a subdued sex comedy in the Azerbaijani countryside. That’s not to say that Veit Helmer’s low-key oddity doesn’t dabble in some physical comedy not dissimilar to Keaton’s, but it also manages to sneak a touch of sleaze behind the charm.

Following the farcical adventures of train driver Nurel (Predrag ‘Miki’ Manojlovic, trying his amiable best to off-set some questionable writing choices), The Bra depicts a very strange mystery being set into action: who is the owner of the lacey brasserie that becomes attached to the front of Nurel’s train? Nurel becomes dangerously obsessed with reuniting the bra with the pair of breasts it belongs to, improvising his way around the rundown outskirts of Baku to satiate not only his curiosity, but his blossoming puppy-dog affection (or lust?) for any lovely lady whose mammaries fit the bill.

This all sounds a bit like Cinderella (1950) meets Confessions of a Window Cleaner (1974), and that’s honestly not far off the experience of watching The Bra. It’s like seeing a whimsical Disney flick and reading a raunchy Viz! sketch at the same time, which can make the overall tone difficult to settle into, while the on-screen company is simultaneously likeable and dislikeable. The film reaches the point where it’s almost impossible to sympathise with Manojlovic’s sad-sack engineer, as his schemes to find the right cup size become increasingly creepy. The film’s roster of women are also disconcertingly game to strip nude for the unassuming Nurel, which does add in a very troubling gender imbalance to a film with such a seemingly innocuous tone.


The presence of Denis Lavant (one of this writer’s favourite living screen actors) does liven things up considerably and gives the film an entirely new approach. Lavant spends much of his screen-time making rhythms out of machinery so he can play a tiny trumpet as he merrily drives his train around the countryside. Even at 57 years old, Lavant possesses a boyish charm that makes you miss him all the more when Manojlovic is left with some uncomfortable material that fails to connect on any empathetic level. Lavant is the film’s key strength, but he’s sadly wasted in a work that seems more interested in muddling its politics with some unsuccessful bawdy comedy (like the following…).

The Bra is admittedly put together with some considerable craftmanship, but once it opens itself up to weightier issues, the pacing sags and things go south pretty quickly. (I’m so sorry).

This review was published on February 13, 2019.

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