Centre of my World (original German title Die Mitte der Welt) is the latest feature film from writer/director Jakob M. Erwa, based upon the novel by Andreas Steinhöfel. The film focuses on Phil (Louis Hofmann), a young man who returns home after a brief period away to find himself caught between an unspoken feud between his sister Dianne (Ada Philine Stappenbeck) and mother Glass (Sabine Timoteo). To add to Phil’s confusion he soon finds himself drawn into his first serious relationship with the mysterious Nicholas (Jannik Schümann). A film very much focused on relationships and the way that they shape us and, as the title suggests, our world.
In all the central characters we find the common trait of avoiding the truth while pushing away those that get too close to exposing their deeper, and largely more fearful, selves. This behaviour is passed down through time and generations, with the past having a continuously negative effect on the present. Glass is an extremely damaged figure with a reputation for sleeping with many men. Having had children at a young age she has a real fear of losing her youth and ultimately overcompensates with a façade of not caring about what anyone thinks. This fear sadly passes onto a genuine loss of youth for her two children.
Glass refuses to tell her children anything about their father, perhaps for fear of facing up to the reality of her situation, and pushes away any man who becomes too close to her family. This ultimately leads to serious ramifications for both her children. Phil becomes desperate for love and approval. While Dianne becomes embittered towards Glass for depriving them of a father figure. Erwa handles these emotional aspects well and praise must be given to the young cast, Hofmann and Stappenbeck in particular, for providing truly empathetic performances. These characters are all exceedingly flawed and yet as an audience we only ever feel sympathy towards them, even when it is revealed towards the end that some of them are responsible for some deplorable things.
However, Centre of my World for much of its running time stumbles slowly through an unclear storyline. Should our attention lie with the conflict between Dianne and Glass, or the romance between Phil and Nicholas? The romance stood aside the family feud often feels weak, yet both are given similar screen time. Ultimately, the love story presents rather like a teenage drama, the feud as a serious exploration of the loss of innocence. Similarly, Centre of my World is at times a little too blatant, with moments where Phil speaks directly to the audience being particularly culpable. As well as the overly wrought symbolism of Dianne and Phil playing carefree in a field of blooming purple flowers as children, in stark contrast with a bleak forest ravaged by storm in the present.
While Centre of my World is a thoughtful and sensitively handled film it can at times also be quite flawed. There are various points in story, dialogue and symbolism that simply feel unnecessary. Erwa perhaps attempts to do too much, rather than focusing on the solid core of the film; the family relationships, lost youth and the way the past haunts the present.
Words by Jon Heywood
Centre of my World is out in UK cinemas on June 30, 2017