Separateness is an illusion. That's the message if this film from Austria directed by Barbara Allen. It ambitiously explores this theme by following various members of a small town whose lives have been impacted by the life and death of a young woman.
Manu (Kathrin Resetarits) is flying home from a vacation in the Gulf of Mexico when a butterfly flutters, a tornado suddenly appears, and her plane goes down in the sea. She is the lone survivor. Six years later, Manu is a supermarket clerk with a husband, Andreas (Georg Friedrich), and a daughter, Yvonne (Deborah Ten Brink). After leaving her friend Andrea (Ursula Strauss), a teacher, at a disco, Manu is killed in a head-on crash with a car driven by Kai (Dominik Hartel), a young man out on a date with his girlfriend, Gabi (Nicole Skala). She is paralyzed in the accident and blames him for ruining her life.
At Manu's funeral, her shy brother, Reini (Martin Brambach), a science teacher, and her sister, Gerlinde (Marion Mitterhammer), a dysfunctional woman, can't believe she's really dead. He is attracted to Sandra (Bellinda Akwa-Asare), an African-Austrian. She's in group therapy trying to connect with her unknown father. Her lonely mother, Belinda (Gabriela Schmoll), sings in a choir and is secretly in love with a policeman who works across the street from her. However, when she declares her feelings for him, he rebuffs her. In response, Belinda resorts to an act of self-destruction. Gerlinde has sex with a crippled older man in order to live under his roof. She becomes increasing deranged and, at one point, is thrown out of a mall for a rant against capitalism.
Meanwhile, Kai feels adrift when his girlfriend refuses to forgive him and connects with Patricia (Desiree Ourada), a lonely teenager who is hated by her classmates and dabbles in efforts to communicate with the dead. Manu's husband is experiencing guilt over his affair with Andrea, and his daughter is afflicted with a stomach ailment which seems to be a result of her grieving process.
The idea of the butterfly effect that links separate incidents is carried through the film as a major theme. In addition, the lingering spiritual presence of Manu is hinted at through the use of camera angles that look down on the characters. It is a fascinating exercise to trace all the connections you have with other people. Free Radicals would have us believe that these links go further than we can imagine and provide many sparks of light and meaning.