Berlin Calling (2008)

Director: Hannes Stöhr

Screenplay: Hannes Stöhr

A fan of Paul Kalkrenner’s Berlin Calling soundtrack far before I’d ever even seen director Hannes Stöhr’s film of the same name, I recently had the chance to finally see whether what’s onscreen was as good as what’s on the album.

First however, I feel that I should start by making a declaration of sorts: I’m rarely impressed by musicians who suddenly feel the burgeoning desire to act.   With the exception of Charlotte Gainsbourg, recent good performances by musicians are very far and few between.  The sole saving grace for any musician who wishes to act seems to be when they’re cast in roles that they already have experience with.  Ice Cube’s role in Boyz n’ the Hood, for example, offered him the chance to play up the tough guy schtick he’d honed to that point throughout his rap career.

In Berlin Calling, Stöhr casts German techno artist Paul Kalkbrenner as Martin Karow, aka DJ Ickarus; a party hungry Berlin DJ who sucks back lines of cocaine and heaps of pills as though he were on a strict drugs only diet.  The end results are numerous, with the main one being that Ickarus ends up in a mental hospital reminiscent of One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, except that this time the tyrannical staff has been replaced by an über tolerant German one.

Yes, this is a film about taking too many drugs and for lack of a better term: flipping your whig as a result.  Ickarus seems to have everything: signed by an ultra hip record label, a beautiful girlfriend/manager, nights of endless partying and playing the music that he loves around Europe and particularly, within the nightlife mecca of Berlin.  But the drugs turn on Ickarus in a big way, slowly eroding his achievements one by one and making way for the onset of schizophrenia.

Berlin Calling isn’t a particularly complex or deep film, which is too bad because at times it tries to be.  Still, it does offer a perfectly suited performance by Paul Kalkbrenner, who sticks to what he undoubtedly knows after over a decade of DJing in clubs around the world.  In fact, it’s Kalkbrenner’s Ickarus who supplies the film’s only real stream of emotional conflict and feeling.

For all intents and purposes, this is your standard man gets addicted to drugs, tries to save his life story, where things go from bad to worse before getting better.  Not a lot of surprises, but oddly enough, that really didn’t bother me.  Perhaps I was biased going in.  After all, I’d been listening to the soundtrack for more than a year before actually seeing the film.  Being a fan of Kalkbrenner’s could have skewed my perspective.  Or, perhaps it’s my fondness for Berlin as a city.  It’s all possible of course, but I think that real truth is that Berlin Calling maintained a very nice undercurrent of black humor and when I wasn’t laughing, I simply enjoyed watching a brilliant DJ implode to a first rate soundtrack.  A tad schaudenfreudish perhaps, but forgivable all the same.

-mike

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Filed under European Cinema, Germany, Mike

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