Welcome to a gigantic warehouse supermarket in Germany. It is an awesome place that resembles a cathedral with its high ceilings and wide aisles. Shelves of individual items are within reach of the customers, while crates of extra supplies are stacked above. The place is almost empty when we arrive. Only the night shift is present, restocking and rearranging items on the shelves or moving steadily down the aisles with their forklifts to grab items from above.
We cannot be sure, but perhaps all the products have felt loved and appreciated this day, for suddenly the place is swept up in the grace and rhythms of Strauss' "Blue Danube." The musical magic works, and we begin to feel an emotional connection to this supermarket, its things and its people. It is almost as if the Sufi poet Rumi has peeped out from behind a stack to tell us: "Know that each thing in the universe is a vessel full to the brim with wisdom and beauty." That truth will become apparent over the next two hours.
Christian (Franz Rogowski) is a new hire. It's his first day on the job as a stock handler. His boss Rudi (Andreas Leupold) gives him the necessary supplies for his work — a name badge, box-cutter, white pens, and a work coat. He is asked to make sure his arm tattoos are well hidden from the customers. He then meets Bruno (Peter Kurth), a crusty veteran, who shows him the ropes; they will work together in beverages.
One of the many marvels in In the Aisles is its depiction of all the little kindnesses and courtesies these blue collar workers show each other. Only one of them gets angry at Bruno for not lending him a forklift when he needs it. Other times, they enjoy "taking 15" to play chess or smoke cigarettes outside. Nobody reports seeing someone take expired snacks from the throwaway bins. The group regularly gets together after work for a few beers. And when Christian who had trouble mastering the forklift takes a test in front of his co-workers, they cheer him on as one of their own.
Another marvel in the film is the relaxed treatment of the human quality of tenderness. As Zenju Earthyn Manuel put it in her book The Way of Tenderness:
"If I were to define the way of tenderness, I would say that it is acknowledgement — acknowledging and honoring all life and all that is in the world, fully, with heart and body. This acknowledgement is wordless and is expressed in a deeply felt nod to everything and everyone — an inner bow to life, so to speak. The way of tenderness is a response from below the surface of what appears to us when we are seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting, or thinking. It is a response beyond the mind, but of the body. It rises up quite naturally, without preconception, without our knowing the reason for the tears, fierce anger, or laughter that come with it. With the welling up of tenderness, we are like newborn babies simply experiencing the sensations of being alive. It is our own unique experience."
When Christian sees Marion (Sandra Huller) working across from him, it is love at first sight. Nearly all of his fellow workers have commented on his shyness or the fact that he is a man of few words. So it's not surprising that he can't express his feelings for her, even when they meet regularly for coffee in the break room. She is touched by his natural courtesy and in a scene where they hold hands, we recall times when we, too, felt tenderness welling up within us in this kind of intimacy.
Tenderness is evident in Christian's relationship with Bruno, too, and even in the workers' relationship to the goods they are handling. Care must be taken with the large crates, and it is. The soundtrack catches the many moods of the place, from a variety of songs to the vibrations of all the lights coming on in the morning to the mystical sounds of a forklift.
In the Aisles is one the Most Spiritually Literate Films of 2019, thanks to the attention to details by director Thomas Stuber, the creative angles on store life captured by cinematographer Peter Matjasko, and the complementary musical selections by music supervisor Milena Fessmann. Watching we can't help but acknowledge "all life and all that is in the world, fully, with heart and body." Be ready to be surprised and mesmerized!