<i>The Forest for the Trees</i> possesses a searing vulnerability that may very well create a visceral squirming sensation in its viewers. That this simple tale of a young woman moving to the big city to take her first job is able to engender such a remarkable effect underscores just how auspicious are the talents of first-time feature director Maren Ade.
Bubbling with enthusiasm, young Melanie (brilliantly played by Eva Löbau) leaves her life in the country to take a position as a city high school teacher. Melanie brings with her an overwhelming need to fit in and be loved by her students, colleagues, and neighbors, but she faces subtle obstacles while struggling to live according to her small-town social conventions. Despite her earnest desires, Melanie commits one faux pas after another, unwittingly crossing further social boundaries in trying to cover up her errors. Gradually, Melanie finds herself awash in a sea of her own emotional detritus.
Ade's expertly crafted script evokes a journey that is universally familiar. The choice to film in digital video perfectly transmits Melanie's gnawing sense of loneliness, shame, and dysfunction. Pitch-perfect performances by the cast, led by Löbau, top off this finely tuned story of emotional hunger.