TIM WONG reports from the Wellington Film Society. This week: scenes from a marriage.

IF MICHAEL HANEKE ever makes a film about love (save for the psychosexual transgressions of The Piano Teacher), chances are he’ll reach for Veleska Grisebach’s Longing (Sehnsucht) as a point of reference. An intensely framed disintegration of marriage and intimacy, at its simplest a parable of infidelity and fate, it sparsely, yet acutely contemplates the ramifications of an affair between a metalworker and waitress (Andreas Müller, Anett Dornbusch), whose initial one night stand is enclosed within a magnificent jump cut preceded by the pop-lustiness of Robbie Williams’ ‘Feel’. Meeting at a volunteer firefighter’s convention, the pair liase several times more; meanwhile back home, the metalworker’s baby fawn wife (Ilka Welz) longs unbearably for her husband’s touch.

Predictable only in that its outcome is foreshadowed by an instance of tragi-romance and scuppered fatalism – in turn bookended by a curveball epilogue which closes the film as if it were a revisionist Aesop fable – Grisebach’s frugally observed non-actors and pastoral setting seemed to throw many in attendance, some of whom noisily conveyed their displeasure as they retreated from the theatre. To consider Longing mundane or rudimentary though is to overlook both its economy of exposition (where key events are never dwelled upon, but implied through bite-sized ellipses), and poignant human pauses: wife Ella reciting the ‘polar bear song’ to a keyboard beat; husband Markus dancing aimlessly, drunkenly alone; the stroking of a pet rabbit in a moment of great despair; scenes of love making smothered not so much in skin and heavy breathing, but deep, palpable feeling. Almost mandatory for films of this constitution (i.e. bleak, interrogative, drearily European) is a pervading sense of unease, and Longing’s rural stupor and textbook (if uncommonly organic) austerity recalls Bresson and the Dardenne Brothers in equal parts. As for its obliteration of a seemingly contended family, Haneke would surely approve.