Festival Review: 24 Weeks (2016)

24 Wochen

As a couple struggle to come to terms with their unborn baby’s condition, Anne Zohra Berrached’s 24 Weeks uncovers a grey world of impossible decisions and female courage.

Maybe Baby

by Mark Wilshin

24 Weeks

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Following the narrative trajectory of 90% of German in the same situation, Anne Zohra Berrached’s 24 Weeks follows the decisions, doubts and anxieties of a couple whose unborn baby is diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome and a heart condition. Astrid (Julia Jentsch) is a stand-up comedian and upfront about everything – from her pregnancy to her ultimate and most difficult decision. And she does everything she can to make an informed one – from visiting doctors, paediatricians, psychologists and the neonatal intensive care ward to even seeking solace in church. But ultimately, despite arguments and tensions with her boyfriend Markus (Bjarne Mädel), it’s her decision alone. And one that becomes almost unbearable, as we watch her sobbing while giving birth in the final reel. A standalone issue film, Berrached’s 24 Wochen doesn’t play around with subtext or symbolism, even heightening the realism of Astrid and Markus’ predicament with real doctors playing themselves. But while poetic moments are rare, such as Astrid’s sink dowsing which turns into an underwater plunge or images of a foetus floating in the womb, they feel overwrought and clichéd. Friede Clausz’s cinematography is grey, and taking place in austere hospitals in the bleak midwinter, there’s a desperate cheerlessness to Anne Zohra Berrached’s film. But with an outstanding performance from Julia Jentsch and a script that makes Berrached complicit in her decision (giving the abortionist her own name), 24 Weeks is a brutally honest film on a woman’s right to decide.

24 Weeks is now showing at the 66th Berlin Film Festival

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