Student Piet (Adam Ild Rohweder) has high potential indeed: he’s studying what I’d call computer-age philosophy, he’s written an apparently excellent paper entitled Invisible Traces, and he’s independently wealthy from the sale of a small company a year ago. How could things be any better for Piet? Well, he suffers from hopeless social anxiety, to the extent that he rarely leaves his dormitory, preferring instead to have his shopping and any other necessities delivered to him, apparently including sushi deliveries for lunch and dinner, which he eats between his nightly sessions with his favourite camgirl/only friend (Laurence Roothoft). But when he gets to know fellow student Klara (Paulina Galazka), things appear to be looking up: she’s pretty, she’s clever, she’s fun, and she seems to like him.
It’d be nice to say that they get closer, begin a relationship, and finish the picture happily, especially since Rohweder does such a fine job making us feel sympathy for Piet. But this isn’t a romantic comedy, it’s a dark story on the type of young male sexual entitlement that so frequently makes headlines in the United States. The picture is German, but shot in English and set in some non-specific anywhere-land (“Filmed in the EU”, say the closing credits). With all of this conscious relevance, it’s pleasantly surprising that the picture presents such a humanised and believable Piet – certainly, he’s more likeable, less of a grotesque horror-movie villain than the “incel” types he calls to mind. If anything, such strong scripting and acting may be to the film’s detriment: inevitably, we’re heading towards some horrid act, and of course a horrid act occurs, or rather several in succession. But Piet’s journey from nice-but-awkward to nasty misogynist is far too compressed to really convince, and the character of Klara seems a little too convenient: she’s so smart, so pretty, so charming and so nice; she moves well beyond flirtation into outright making a pass at Piet, yet she rejects him when he returns it because that’s a necessity of the script.
At just 85 minutes, the film could have done with a longer middle stretch; if the leads were better-developed, there would be more impact to what we later see transpire. With that said, what does transpire is observed brilliantly, coldly and with a sharp eye for incongruous little details. A movie this nasty shouldn’t be able to make black-comedy elements work, but director Linus de Paoli manages just that in this sad, sordid, icky little tale.
A Young Man With High Potential is available on VOD from 17th September.