Center of My World (2016)

[7.5]

Jakob M. Erwa directs his own adaptation of Andreas Steinhöfel’s novel about a 17-year-old who returns from summer camp to find his hedonistic mother and twin sister have become uncomfortably distant. At the same time, he enters into his first romantic relationship with the new boy at school and seeks the aid of close family friends and his mother’s latest boyfriend to help him figure out where — forgive the poetics — the center of his world is.

Erwa assembles a terrific cast for this German-language film, led by the suitably doe-eyed and empathetic Louis Hofmann. Sabine Timoteo and Ada Philine Stappenbeck bring the drama as the embattled mother and sister, and hunky Jannik Schümann provides both a good performance and a bounty of eye candy as Hofmann’s first love. Erwa favors lingering close-ups of his actors and gives us moments of silence that beg us to enter the characters’ hearts and minds. He’s also adept at blocking and staging that’s anything but rote, with stylistic flourishes and poetic license in all the right places — Center of My World is beautifully well made.

Coming-of-age stories may be a dime a dozen, but this film’s assembled talent succeed in making the curiosity, euphoria, and heartbreak more fresh than usual. The gay romantic subplot is easier to understand and market — and the film certainly delivers on that level, complete with full-frontal, sensitively crafted sex scenes. But the true narrative through-line is in the family drama, and the dark mystery that explains the mother and sister’s estrangement. That I was never able to guess the revelation is an added bonus.