While Maren Ade’s three feature films—Der Wald vor lauter Bäumen (The Forest for the Trees, Germany, 2003), Alle anderen (Everyone Else, Germany, 2009), and Toni Erdmann (Germany/ Austria, 2016)—employ techniques of realism prevalent in contemporary transnational cinema, they are nonetheless geopolitically and historically specific, consistently focusing on the awkwardness of white, heterosexual, middle-class, professional German women and what Lauren Berlant refers to as the “cruel optimism” that renders their seemingly privileged existence precarious. Ade distinguishes herself through the characters she develops and the milieus that dominate her cinema. While there is an absence of glamour, romance, and sentimentality, the characters also do not dwell in a state of material precarity; the insecurity they face is instead personal and social. Three tendencies distinguish Ade as an auteur and coalesce into a new paradigm for representing female figures who might otherwise lose representability in both mainstream cinema (dominated by market forces) and alternative cinema. For one, she intervenes in a monolithic representational landscape of first-world, white, middle-class professional women to subvert the prevalent assumption that their struggles are no longer systemic in nature while conceding that the notion of a universal experience of femininity across geopolitical and class boundaries is largely illusory. As well, she develops an aesthetic of embarrassment and awkwardness to give affective expression to cruel optimism. Finally, she reworks the chick flick to implicitly reject certain postfeminist, neoliberal premises.

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