A lot of us have one semi-annoying friend or acquaintance that seems to have absolutely everything — a wonderful significant other, a great place to live, the perfect job (or lack of job) and generally never seem to have a care in the world. But even if that’s actually true, it can still take just an instant for that fantastic life to fall to pieces. In the German short film Maren, that instant comes in the form of a fatal car crash.
The title character (Margitta-Janine Lippok) is a woman who has it all. Besides the usual things meant by that phrase, she also has a zest for life, taking pleasure in the small things that are so easily overlooked. On the night that changes her life, her beloved husband is coming back from a business trip and Maren has planned a romantic dinner at a nice restaurant to welcome him home. Death, however, decides to crash the party, and I’m not just making a bad pun — after she gets the terrible phone call about her husband, Death (Max Tidof) sits himself down at her table for a chat.
This could never be an ordinary chat, of course. Maren wants her husband back, and Death is more than willing to talk terms, or at least he claims to be. But these are the highest possible stakes and Maren has an impossible choice before her. Death might know (or think he knows) exactly how much a human life is worth, but how is a mere mortal to decide on such an exchange? If you can’t cheat Death, as the saying goes, you probably should never try to negotiate with him, either, but Maren is desperate.
The film deals with many facets of the human condition without ever becoming preachy or condescending. Whether your life is wildly successful or you’re struggling through every day, we’re all the same as far as Death is concerned — all equally valuable and equally worthless. In the end, though, this film’s message isn’t nearly as dark as you might expect. To quote a very different movie, life finds a way, and perhaps that’s all that matters.
Both Lippok and Tidof give pitch-perfect performances. Death is intense and often frightening, both wise about and ignorant of the humans he leads into the beyond, while Maren is the image of a woman facing the derailment of her entire life, struggling with the weight of sudden despair. It’s a powerful, wonderfully directed film that’s haunting and hopeful — because while Death may be everywhere, in the end this is the story of a mere mortal, and it’s Maren that shines through beautifully.