“A YOUNG MAN WITH HIGH POTENTIAL”
A Psychological Thriller
Linus de Paoli’s “A Young Man with High Expectations” is about a painfully shy graduate student and his increasingly unsettled relationship with a female student.
Piet (Adam Ild Rohweder) is a brilliant grad student but he is also painfully shy and socially inept. His loneliness and sense of solitude changes when he has to partner on a school project with the pretty and outgoing Klara (Paulina Galazka). They spend time together but Piet misinterprets her friendly personality and tells her that he loves her. Klara rejects his advance and Piet retreats into himself, becoming more and more obsessed with the woman he “loves”. One night he drugs Klara and attempts to have sex with her while she is unconscious but she begins to fight him off and he violently. This sends Piet spiraling into a dark and despicable place.
Piet prefers to spend his life locked in his room rather than out in the real world. He is caught completely off guard when Klara asks if she can partner with him on a project. At first Piet is but eventually agrees and the two unlikely friends begin to bond but Piet thinks that Klara could be something more than a friend thanks to the influence of his friend Alex (Pit Bukowski). When he is finally able to get up the nerve to make a move on her, he is devastated when he’s rejected and the next time he sees Klara, he seems to lose control of his life.
The film opens with Piet being approached by a detective, Ketura Stantz (Amanda Plummer), who is trying to find out what happened to lead Klara’s death. Piet protests his innocence before the film jumps back in time to show the viewers what happened in the past and how the events unfolded. We see Piet and Klara meet and begin working together. Klara starts to bring him out of himself and take him away from his reclusive life, where he spends most of his time as a voyeur online to sex worker Kylie (Laurence Roothooft). All the signs are there that Klara will rebuff Piet. The two characters are total opposites.
“A Young Man With High Potential” tests viewers’ stomachs with its horror. Adam Ild Rohweder gives a chilling performance and he carries the film. Watching him transform is a total experience. he way he transforms his character across the film’s 85 minutes is pretty incredible and despite his actions, you still find yourself feeling a little bit sorry for Piet. Even with all of his evil, I found sympathy for him and this is because director de Paoli does a very good job of forcing us to look at the shades of grey between the black and white. The film is unrelenting during its second half but I can’t really much more than that without spoiling the plot for those who want to see it. It’s not an easy watch at all and the ending is frustrating but fascinating.
When Piet kisses Klara and she pulls away, she explains that she doesn’t think of him in that way and he is devastated. What he does next seems, on one hand, like a logical progression; on the other, like something so far removed from human feeling that there’s no moral or psychological point of return. The film balances this through cinematic tricks and we realize that we identify with Piet at his worst and, for some time, we are willing him to step back. What Piet sets out to do doesn’t live up to his own expectations and stresses the split between his beliefs about himself and reality, and the degree to which he’s sacrificing his own emotional connection with the world by deliberately submerging his feelings until he can’t recover them. He becomes tragic, sympathetic and pathetic at the same time. Because he can see the horror in the situation, it’s impossible for viewers to lose sight of it.
Later, when Piet is dealing with the consequences of his actions, we watch so much go wrong, almost to the point of farce, and surprisingly, we want him to get away with it. This is black comedy at its most bleak in which laughter is a way to cope with what we see. We are ready to participate in Piet’s attempt at a cover-up. There’s a strong desire to have all these troubles go away, to have things go back to “normal”. Galazka’s Klara is warmth and a youthful clumsiness. She’s smart and funny and full of potential and director De Paoli shows her as directly opposite of Piet, as light contrasted with dark. What we see of Piet’s social life, show us that that he is capable of lasting friendship if he doesn’t let sexual feelings get in the way, and his geekiness is a reminder that toxic masculinity isn’t limited.
Tension doesn’t slacken for an instant especially during the second half. There are no easy solutions here, and nobody should expect to sleep easily afterwards.