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As a part of my PhD research on images of a solitary woman in German contemporary cinema, my study of Maren Ade’s fiction feature film, The Forest for the Trees focuses on the social and aesthetic implications of the protagonist, Melanie (Eva Löbau)’s solitude. The film is about secondary school biology teacher, Melanie’s endeavours to adjust to her new work and neighbourhood. Despite her relentless efforts, Melanie fails to build meaningful relationships both at work and in her personal life. Since Melanie struggles to adjust to human society, I compare her to feral children in literature and film. According to anthropologist, Robert M. Zingg, feral man is “the term for extreme cases of human isolation”, such as infants adopted by animals or “older children who have wandered away into the wilds to survive by their own efforts, unaided by human contact”. Through Melanie, The Forest for the Trees examines women’s subjectivity in the present society, focusing on her situation of lack of improvement and affective responses to it. In doing this, the film adopts both neoliberal aesthetics and elements of German Romanticism. The neoliberal aesthetic in The Forest for the Trees renders the protagonist’s situation and subjective feelings visible, while Romantic elements reveal the film’s critical view of society, as well as its sympathy for Melanie. In light of the intersection of these two aesthetics, I argue that the feeling subject in Ade’s film is an alternative to the thinking subject in New German Cinema.
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