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‘Ivo’ Review: Talented German Director Explores the Strategies for Coping with Daily Death

Minna Wündrich portrays the multifaceted protagonist in Eva Trobisch’s candidly sincere second feature, delving into the personal struggles of a caregiver overwhelmed by responsibilities.

Ivo

In “Ivo,” played by Minna Wündrich, she spends her days caring for terminally ill patients as a palliative care nurse. While she doesn’t bear the responsibility of saving them, she strives to listen to their grievances and alleviate their suffering. As a 40-year-old single mother, Ivo grapples with the physical and emotional toll of her job, occasionally bending the rules in ways that humanize her yet also challenge her saintly image.

Writer-director Eva Trobisch eschews moral judgment in “Ivo,” instead focusing on the tension between the protagonist’s optimism and the burdens of her work. Building on the promise of her 2018 debut, “All Is Good,” which centered on a young woman’s resilience after a sexual assault, Trobisch delivers another raw, unflinching portrayal of a person consumed by suppressed emotions.

While the characters in Trobisch’s films differ, her consistent approach signifies her as a significant new cinematic voice. Recognized as one of Variety’s Directors to Watch and awarded the Heiner Carow Prize at the Berlinale for emerging German filmmakers, Trobisch poses a fundamental question in “Ivo”: Who cares for the caregivers?

Ivo, portrayed by Minna Wündrich, lacks the support she provides to others, highlighting the poignant irony of her situation. The presence of an empathetic audience might alleviate her profound sense of loneliness, yet the film suggests that Ivo’s authenticity lies in her unguarded moments, unaffected by the presence of cameras. Trobisch’s docu-adjacent approach, blending scripted scenes with non-actors, lends a genuine feel to Ivo’s life, capturing its messy, seemingly ordinary aspects.

Most of the time, Ivo appears as the unsung hero in a profession where gratitude is scarce. Yet, there are moments when she deviates from this perception. Injecting herself with painkillers intended for a patient, seeking numbness, illustrates her own need for relief. Engaging with dating apps, she dismisses the pursuit of connection, opting for distraction instead. Meeting a stranger at a bar, she fabricates an excuse to leave when she’s had enough, concealing her true motives. Meanwhile, Ivo’s daughter, on the brink of independence, represents another impending loss for a woman constantly confronted by it.

The film follows Ivo on her rounds, visiting various ailing patients in their homes, where they receive care. Trobisch brings attention to a subject often ignored by the public, employing a clipped editing style that jump-cuts briskly between scenes, forcing audiences to quickly adapt to each new situation. This approach prompts viewers to discern certain patterns, with Wündrich’s expressions and the recurring space of her car providing continuity.

Trobisch presents Ivo’s life in fragments, not always in a convenient order for viewers to piece together. Early on, she introduces Solveigh (Pia Hierzegger), a woman with a degenerative condition who appears younger than Ivo’s other patients. Much later, we discover that Solveigh and Ivo have been friends for years, complicating their dynamic, especially given Solveigh’s desire for assisted suicide, contrary to Ivo’s profession. Further complicating matters, Ivo is having an affair with Solveigh’s husband, Franz (Lukas Turtur).

After 20 minutes of portraying Ivo as a consummate professional, Trobisch takes us into a hotel room where she’s arranged to meet Franz. It’s a casual, disarmingly frank scene — reminiscent of a similar tryst in another recent German film, “Toni Erdmann” — that complicates our perception of Ivo in the best possible way. For the remainder of the film, she becomes a woman of secrets. She wants to honor her friend’s wishes, but she’s hardly disinterested.

At one point, Ivo informs another patient’s wife, who’s paranoid that her dying husband will revise his will to leave everything to Ivo, that caregivers aren’t permitted to accept bequests, legally or ethically. But what about this situation, in which Ivo stands to “inherit” a lover after Sol’s passing? The film explores this question thoroughly, juggling their relationship alongside Ivo’s other responsibilities. Trobisch isn’t particularly focused on plot, making this complex love triangle the film’s most compelling narrative thread. Death is a routine part of Ivo’s job, but here she’s forced to confront the prospect of a friend’s death, while secretly hoping it might offer a chance for a new beginning in her own life.

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