“IN THE AISLES”— A Workplace Romance

“IN THE AISLES” (“IN DEN GANGEN”)

A Workplace Romance

Amos Lassen

“In the Aisles” is a “workplace drama without much drama but a touching romance and some endearing comical moments.” We get a positive look at blue-collar life through the eyes of the privileged. Written and directed by German filmmaker Thomas Stuber the film is about working the aisles of a giant supermarket in the former GDR (East Germany). 

Christian (Franz Rogowski) is a reserved but brooding young man who is hired as a night shift worker in the grocery. Bruno (Peter Kurth) from the beverage department, takes Christian under wing and teaches him how to operate the forklift.

When Christian meets the food stacker of Sweet Goods, Marion (Sandra Hüller), he falls in love at first sight. An offbeat romanc ensues and she  teases Christian and calls him “freshling.” He is bashful while still flirting with the married woman. At a Christmas work party she puts her head on his shoulder and things become more serious. Christian goes to Marion’s house and we learn something about her domestic life and wonder if there will be a romance between the two likable leads.

This is a gentle and charming romantic comedy with beauty and hope in the drab corridors of a German wholesale supermarket. But the location is so generic that it could be anywhere in Europe or even some in The States. This is part of Stuber’s modestly universal intentions. Throughout “In The Aisles,” we feel like we know the blue-collar people in the film and that we have walked among the crates of foods and beverages. But what we don’t know or haven’t necessarily experienced formerly is the level of kindness that we see through the layers and layers of familiar-looking shelves. While Stuber’s film acknowledges the blandness of the environment  but the filmmaker loves his characters so much that he can’t help but show their humanity rising above the surface of it all.

Christian is reserved, calm and observant, appearing a bit shy and awkward. It’s his first day on the job under the command of a gentle boss named Rudi. There, Christian would be in charge of the night shift in the Beverage Department. In the opening moments, Bruno patiently shows Christian the ropes and teaches him to operae a forklift. Stuber sees poetic rhythms everywhere and Peter Matjasko’s cinematography is reminiscent of a romantic dance.

 Christian has an innocent crush on his charming co-worker Marion who mildly flirts with Christian, but she is married and has scars of her own so she doesn’t push the envelope too far. While the duo tiptoe around their mutual affection for one another during stolen moments across the orderly aisles and in break rooms, Stuber continues to build a big world inside somewhere so conceptually small and limiting. We see the workers’ after-work beer sessions, Christmas celebrations and various trivial matters throughout ungodly work hours. Everything is filmed with a strong sense of composition and handle on negative space and these scenes accentuate the tight-knit quality of this community, while also highlighting the loneliness of its members. 

No one here is without problems; everyone is clinging onto something to make ends meet or simply, to make it to the next day. With the risk of spoiling things slightly, some aren’t quite that lucky. Eventually, a tragedy cuts through the film’s overarching sense of peace and harmony, a troubled past for Christian gets revealed and hardships for Marion, who mysteriously disappears from the shift for a while, are hinted at. Yet, occasional flickers of light shine through whenever workers have breaks or freely help themselves to expired snacks they are supposed to be disposing of. It’s these moments build a palpable sense of camaraderie.

This is not a film about “what happens in the end”—it’s a bit predictable it is about how every slice of one’s life matters in making a whole. A lot might be happening when, in fact, nothing seems to happen. Matjasko’s probing camera expresses this sentiment beautifully, capturing the little people of the market from different angles. What it sees and we see is a collective soul that dreams of the world outside, hoping to catch a lucky break someday. Here is a social commentary with sentiment

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