Marriage Story ★★★★½

Watched on Netflix

The first minutes of "Marriage Story" are filled with love and affection. When asked what the other appreciates about the partner, Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver) answer with a montage of happy, more precious moments, all secretly hidden in the everyday life of their young family. Inconspicuous gestures that no one else would register, but for Nicole and Charlie, they form the foundation of their relationship - a foundation that is violently shaken in the following minutes by Noah Baumbach's most recent work.

As it turns out shortly afterwards, the protagonists' introductory words are part of a stirring separation and ultimately divorce process. Nicole and Charlie live together with their eight-year-old son Henry (Azhy Robertson) in New York. She is an esteemed theatre actress, while he as an aspiring director stages all the plays in which Nicole takes the audience's breath away. Her most recent production, a reinterpretation of Elektra, is scheduled for Broadway next, but Nicole decides to shoot the pilot of a television series in Los Angeles, established by Noah Baumbach as the second major location for his film. From now on Marriage Story fluctuates between two metropolises, which sometimes seem like a dreamy place of family and security, but then also appear as the battlefield of a fragmenting marriage.

Noah Baumbach stages the places as a mirror of Nicole and Charlie's inner conflict. While the apartments and rooms in New York are filled with memories and a warm light, the overwhelmingly beautiful 35mm shots in Los Angeles speak a completely different language. Even the radiant sun can radiate a stinging cold in the background, while the vastness of the city, praised by everyone with enthusiasm, quickly turns out to be a desolate emptiness. No pictures on the walls, only the large surface, which lacks any identity: In every devastating picture Noah Baumbach finds hope or at least the possibility of change, because in the end Marriage Story doesn't tell of any final point.

Even if Nicole and Charlie initially stick to the idea of an uncomplicated separation, which enables them to lead their own separate lives from now on, they always get into conflict throughout the film, not least because of their son, for whom they both agree that only the best is what they want. In the interaction with the clarified divorce lawyers Nora (Laura Dern) and Jay (Ray Liotta) this best quickly turns into an ugly affair, into a bureaucratic process and above all into a merciless bargaining for words.

The dialogues, also written by Noah Baumbach, are as stirring as they are intense - and give the actors a lot of material to deepen their roles. How Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver approach each other in Marriage Story before they separate again is one of the most devastating acting movements of the cinema year. They unfold their characters rich in facets, which despite all the initial reason dissolve at a certain point into pure emotions and transcend boundaries that they actually do not want to transcend.

But in the most desperate minutes of Marriage Story, these transgressions appear as the only way to be seen, to be heard - and to express inner chaos. "I don't know how to start," Charlie explains just a few seconds before he gets lost in a massive argument with Nicole and everything gets out of hand. A shocking scene, but one that ends in one of the most human moments of the film, demonstrating Noah Baumbach's impressive understanding of the characters alongside the absolutely outstanding acting. His staging is always marked by emotional conflicts and also brings an unexpected sense of humour at the decisive moment, which enriches Marriage Story with another level of sensitive insight into the inner life of Nicole and Charlie.

However, this film is most beautiful when it doesn't see the emptiness of its rooms as the end of a relationship, but as the beginning to create something new. This is difficult, requires an incredible amount of strength, but here a completely new future can be created - together.

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