BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM reports from the Wellington Film Society. This week: Goethe Institut selects, round three.

THE FILM SOCIETY’s East German rendezvous continues with Her Third, a rom-com socialist style, which pleads for women’s rights in its own particular way. Following the travails of an ex-nun-solo-mother-potential-lesbian, with two children from two different relationships as she searches for Mr Right (who happens to work in the chemical factory with her), Her Third gently asks for equal rights in relationships. While it has certainly dated, and seems like a curious slice of 70s socialism, some of its concerns about female bonding and relationship behaviour still resonate. And even if the whole film is occasionally rather silly, it shows that despite the barriers of the Cold War, women and men the world-over have to go to great lengths for something that evolution had initially made so simple.

The film is primarily told in flashbacks, following Margit (a compelling Jutta Hoffmann), a factory worker who has suffered through two failed relationships. Filmed in a cinéma-vérité style, the film feels much closer to realism than its Hollywood rom-com/girl-bonding cousins (the film apparently caused a bit of a stir in East Germany for its content). To be fair, the conclusion probably isn’t in any doubt (and dilutes the feminist message of the film in the sense that all Margit wants is a man – but hey, it’s not as if most other rom-coms don’t end that way too). At times the shaky handheld work is a little too distracting – especially in the first third of the film when the camerawork is particularly clumsy and cut too fast. The first third is also a bit all over the show in terms of its narrative – Oedipal dreams, untrammelled flashbacks, ellipsis and some indifferent acting awkwardly jostle with each other, making it a little challenging for the viewer to figure out what’s going on. However, the film and the camerawork settle down a bit as the story progresses.

There is some considerable humour throughout, most notably in a classic scene involving English being taught while a couple try to have sex (I wonder if the fuddy-duddy English lesson was as funny for its original audience of 1970s Germans), and the characters’ plights never feel forced. The characters are treated with considerable warmth by the filmmakers, even in moments of ultimate weakness (such as when Margit finds out her daughter may be blind). Empathy is especially well-created by the formal proximity of the camera to the characters’ faces. Her Third is ultimately a rather charming film, about trying to fall in love in spite of what society might say.