If the phrase ‘German romantic dramedy set almost entirely in a supermarket’ doesn’t immediately grab you, it’d be more than understandable. Thomas Stuber’s In the Aisles tries its best to avoid being the rather worthy trudge that it could have ended up as, especially in its first act, but in the end it loses the ability to fully hold your interest. There’s not much it particularly does wrong, but it rarely rises above the simplicity and non-excitement inherent in its premise, making it hard to whole-heartedly recommend.
Despite Stuber splitting the film into three parts with (rather pointless) title cards that flash up different characters’ names, the sole focus of In the Aisles is Christian (Franz Rogowski). The newest hire at a massive superstore, he’s an awkward man of few words who finds himself swiftly absorbed into the world of night time shelf stacking, his numb reverie only breaking when he sees Marion (Sandra Huller). A confident and experienced employee, she’s drawn to the unassuming quietness of Christian, and so begins a tentative flirtation, despite the fact that Marion is (unhappily) married.
Huller, who shone so brightly in Toni Erdmann, is great value, though Rogowski’s performance is too blank for you to fully believe that he’d be this irresistibly attractive force. Probably In the Aisles’s greatest strength is in the way it captures the bizarre passage of time for those working night shifts with days, nights, and even weeks simply blurring into one another until your own sense of time is warped. Otherwise, though, the plot isn’t hugely engaging, hints at Christian’s darker past catching up with him simply ignored as it goes on, and a later turn to hard-hitting drama doesn’t quite ring true.
Technically, it’s also a mixed bag, with some of the sound design taking you out of the moment, especially a repeated motif of Christian hearing waves crashing against a beach, which just doesn’t work. Visually, though, it is memorable, making good use of its megastore setting, which becomes more like a cathedral than a shop when it closes, lights dimming and the manager playing his favourite classical compositions over the loudspeakers. Ultimately, In the Aisles is too gentle for its own good (bar some amusingly over-gory forklift safety training videos), never really a drama or a comedy and certainly overstretched at over two hours.