Okay, I give up.
This is the TIFF review I least want to write, but one I am most compelled to. My discomfort with the subject matter should be irrelevant; The Most Beautiful Couple is a good film that deserves to be recognized. So I’m going to claim this site as a safe space, I’m going to write this review in peace, but with the understanding that you should click away if you want to\need to.
Liv and Malte are indeed a beautiful couple. That’s well-established in the very first scene which finds them fucking on the beach while on vacation. It’s a secluded spot but they’ve nevertheless got some appreciative viewers in the form of some teenage boys. That’s how I thought of them, boys, until they forced themselves into Liv and Malte’s vacation home later that night in order to rob them. But you know and I know that no one would bother to make a movie about it had they stopped there.
The “boys”, and one in particular, force them to perform for them again, so they can masturbate. Where the beach scene felt fun and carefree and only a little naughty, the act of repeating it under these circumstances is a violation neither Liv nor Malte can bear. When they aren’t quite up to the task demanded of them, ringleader Sascha decides to take a more direct approach. He rapes Liv while Malte watches, hog-tied and bleeding. It’s cruel and agonizing.
Cut to: two years later. Liv (Luise Heyer) and Malte (Maximilian Bruckner) have lived up to the title. This most beautiful couple has managed to stay together despite living through a trauma that would tear most couples apart. They have done the work, complete therapy, and seem to have maintained a loving relationship. It’s remarkable and hopeful. Until one night Malte happens to run into Sascha (Leonard Kunz) while out for shawarma. Gut punch. We see the air leak out of him as this kid finishes up the fast food he’s sharing with his girlfriend. His girlfriend. He’s just a regular guy living in Matle’s own city and this reality is so deeply disturbing to Malte he becomes obsessed. He practically lives at the subway station until he catches sight of him again, and the follows him home.
For what purpose, exactly? What good can come of this? It feels like Malte has no plan and no concept that this is a bad guy who only looks harmless. And here he is, bringing him back into his life again. And into his wife’s life, too, without her knowledge or consent. This is only the beginning of a deep and downward spiral that can’t end well for anyone.
I was so mad at Malte for so much of the movie – how dare he endanger his life, or his wife’s? But I had to consciously shake myself out of this misdirected rage. Malte is a victim. He may be coping in ways I don’t approve of, but it’s easy to judge when you’re not the one who is broken inside. He is healing, he is coping, and it’s not coming out right, but really it’s a miracle he’s kept it together at all. No matter how frustrating his choices are, there’s only one bad guy in this scenario, and this is a good reminder of how easy it can be to lose track of that.
And that’s why I think this film is so interesting, intellectually. It forces you to confront your own fears. Who can watch this and not put themselves in the shoes of the blissfully vacationing couple? But we never know how we’ll react until we’re in that very situation, and let’s hope like hell we never are. So I need to withhold my judgement of a character who is simply doing his best and think about why I went there in the first place. Is it easier to blame ourselves, the victims, when something bad happens? Because if we can just do something different, make different choices than the victim, we can keep ourselves safe? Bad guys make us feel helpless, and helplessness is the worst feeling in the world, so we push it away by finding some blame, some small thing someone could or should have done differently. And we focus on that. Director Sven Taddicken rubs our noses in that falsehood, and though he’s brave to do it, this is not an easy movie to watch.