A lonely private investigator (Georg Friedrich) is contacted by a mysterious woman (Tilde von Overbeck) who pulls him into a mind game known as 'telephone walking'. Fascinated by her voice, Aloys discovers an imaginary universe that allows him to break out of his isolation.
Although Aloys is a private investigator and is expected to be listening and watching at all times, we know something is off from the very first scene: he is intently watching (and filming) his own deceased father. But then again, everyone grieves in their own special way.
This is writer-director Tobias Nölle's first feature, following his segment in the anthology film "Wonderland", and he has really created his own little universe with this one. The set design is appropriately gloomy to reflect Aloys' sullen emotions, with the only bright colors (ironically) being in the crematorium, where we watch his father's casket get unceremoniously dumped into the flames.
We are introduced to the concept of "telephone walking", an idea that was allegedly developed in Japan around 1984 by an unnamed neurologist. Is this concept real? For the sake of the film, that doesn't matter. The methods involved allow lonely folks such as Aloys to envision a passing train, or a wildly flamboyant electric organ disco party. (Yes, the latter happens, and it's the highlight of the otherwise depressing film.)
More interesting than the "telephone walking", perhaps, is how quickly Aloys and his mysterious caller find themselves in a game of cat and mouse, and she clearly has the upper hand. Writer-director Nölle has said, "We live in times where everybody wants to be seen, everybody takes pictures of themselves, everybody creates a second, more brilliant self on the web. I was interested in a man who is invisible, a private eye, who sees everything through his camera, but nobody sees him. Until the day a stranger turns the camera on him."
How life is in Switzerland, I have no idea. But the theme of surveillance is very topical in the United States, where recent headlines about NSA snooping are still fresh concerns in the minds of many. Aloys is interesting in that he represents the hidden surveillance being unmasked. But his work raises another question: what has become of the private eye in a world where everybody is surveilling themselves? If he (or the NSA) wants to know someone's innermost thoughts, they only have to log onto Facebook and scroll through hundreds or thousands of photos uploaded daily.
People like to ask before going in to the theater, "What is the movie like?" This film does not compare easily to anything else, which is high praise for the script. Critic Boyd van Hoeij notes, "Aloys, with his old-fashioned equipment, loner attitude and obsessive edges, recalls Gene Hackman's surveillance expert in Coppola's masterpiece, 'The Conversation'." That's a fair touchpoint, especially considering how often Aloys rewinds and replays his tapes. But the similarities are only superficial. There really is nothing else out there quite like "Aloys".
One fumbles to even describe the picture. It is simultaneously beautiful and depressing, uplifting and lonely, hopeful and barren. Aloys lives in a world that few would want to be in; even he would rather be somewhere else. But at least everything looks good while being swallowed into the void. Even a brief shot of an ambulance seen through a window is gloriously perfect.
"Aloys" premieres July 21, 2016 at the Fantasia Film Festival. While certainly not the fell-good movie of the year, it is definitely one of the best-looking, and may find its way on to a few Top Ten lists.