Touched (2023) Film Review from the 76th Annual Locarno Film Festival, a movie written and directed by Claudia Rorarius and starring Isold Halldórudóttir, Stavros Zafeiris, Angeliki Papoulia, Yousef Sweid, Dimitra Vlagopoulou, Camille Dombrowsky, Marie Tragousti, Hannah Schutsch and Maj-Britt Klenke.
Touched is a fascinating German film (though much of the spoken language in it is English) that pushes the boundaries and then some in regards to the sexual relationship presented in the movie. Directed by Claudia Rorarius, this new movie is notable for its groundbreaking performance by Isold Halldórudóttir who plays the central role of Maria in the picture. Maria is a blonde, overweight caregiver for a middle-aged paraplegic man named Alex (Stavros Zafeiris). Their relationship develops over the course of the film in both “touching” and disturbing ways which help make this a contender to be one of the most controversial movies of the year. This movie features graphic sexual scenes that are beyond anything that you’ll see in an “R” rated movie which also makes this a sure contender to receive an NC-17 rating.
The character of Maria is brave and is in touch with her emotions and her sexuality but the situation she becomes involved in as a professional is very delicate. Scenes the picture presents make the film seem almost pornographic at times but the movie is filmed in such a way that it feels authentic and not exploitative until it arrives at its very heavy and frustrating conclusion.
Touched has very few major plot developments. This is a character-driven film but also a sexuality-driven one as well. This sexuality develops the story line. There are scenes of masturbation, oral satisfaction and other similar adult topics explored in this movie.
Alex has a heavy beard when we first meet him and seems like he has given up the will to live. Maria works with him and does the best she can to try to keep him somewhat mentally motivated. However, Alex throws himself in the pool early in the film and ends up floating face down in the water. When Maria saves him, the two develop a bond that becomes very intense and fluctuates between love and hate as the plot progresses.
This film doesn’t spare audiences details of Alex’s paralysis and shows his private area up close and the processes which are involved in Alex’s daily ability to function. At first, Maria seems to be too forward and some things in the story happen way too fast. The picture would have been better off by developing Maria as a professional before diving into the sexuality which she initiates in the movie. One could mistake Maria for overstepping her boundaries in the early part of the film.
Though there are a lot of questions that are raised in terms of the morality of what happens on screen, there’s no denying the quality of the performances by Stavros Zafeiris and, even more so, Isold Halldórudóttir. As Maria does seem to be too sexually pushy in her actions, Halldórudóttir makes her plausible and likable. One of the best scenes has Maria singing Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” which helps establish her as a woman who has many diverse interests and her romance with Alex is a testimony to her inability to be pigeonholed into the type of person her body may suggest she is. She’s not always irresponsible in what she does, and her body is what it is but that doesn’t restrict her from fulfilling her desires, sexual or otherwise. Alex is a different type of character. He is physically satisfied by Maria in certain ways but doesn’t seem to really respect her if what Alex says late in the film is true of the character’s actual feelings. Zafeiris captures the depression that Alex is experiencing and his physical challenges very efficiently.
Some audiences may be offended by the events that occur in the latter half of the movie especially if they are not outraged by some of the things that happen early on in the film. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Though Touched is nowhere near the level of Lars von Trier’s masterpiece, Breaking the Waves, there are parallels between the two movies. Both films feature emotionally vulnerable women. Emily Watson’s character in von Trier’s movie didn’t have an issue with her outer appearance but both roles required tremendous dedication by the actresses involved. Isold Halldórudóttir doesn’t allow the fact that her body may not be perfect to prevent her from being spellbinding in her major scenes in Touched. It’s a masterful piece of work.
The artistry of Touched is undermined, though, by the fact that the character of Alex doesn’t redeem himself for certain things that he does. In fact, he digs himself into his own hole by the film’s end. Eventually, he’s hardly redeemable in Maria’s eyes who had grown to have much admiration for him as the story line progressed within the picture. The sex scenes are daring but feel like they push the envelope a bit too far for the movie’s own good. This movie could use a good edit for content to be more accessible to the mainstream public though given the film’s complex story line, it may never have been able to work as a mainstream movie.
Still, Touched is a good film overall. It is virtually a two-character piece. It is overlong by about twenty minutes but still inspires much interest in the material at hand. Maria seems aware of what she is doing in regards to pursuing a sexual relationship with Alex. Maria doesn’t seem mentally unstable right at the outset though it is arguable that she does suffer from some form of mental illness by the film’s conclusion. If a viewer doesn’t want to see potentially disturbing sexual content, it may be best to avoid this movie. However, Isold Halldórudóttir does walk away from the picture with one of the bravest performances of the past couple of years. Touched is a film that has its flaws but it is almost impossible not to become immersed in the story, however threadbare it may be. It is recommended for thoughtful audiences who are not easily offended by content that takes huge risks. Luckily, Touched takes those risks and doesn’t fall flat on its face. Instead, it’s likely to inspire thought-provoking conversation afterwards.
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