Category Archives: Germany

Keinohrhasen (Rabbit Without Ears) (2007)

Director: Til Schweiger

Screenplay: Anika Decker, Til Schweiger

In 2008, 6.2 million Germans flocked to the cinema to see actor/writer/director/producer Til Schweiger’s romantic comedy Keinohrhasen. No small feat by any means, considering that Keinohrhasen drew more of a German audience than Hollywood heavyweights such as Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Ratatouille, Shrek the Third, Spiderman 3 and Night at the Museum – to name but a few.  In fact the only film from 2007 that Keinohrhasen didn’t bring in more viewers than was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which brought in just over 7 million.  If any of this seems a tad surprising to you, well, that’s because it really is.  Especially for a rom-com.

Schweiger plays the lead role of Ludo Dekker: a morally bereft tabloid journalist/ladies man, who would most likely have better luck recalling the title of the porno he watched the previous night than he ever would of recalling the name of whichever woman he’s just slept with.  After a particularly invasive attempt at photographing the private wedding of a famous footballer goes horribly awry, Ludo is sentenced to 8 months in prison, a sentence which is suspended in exchange for 300 hours of community service at a local kindergarten.  It’s at this point where Ludo’s past catches up with him and he encounters Anna (Nora Tschirner), a girl whom Ludo teased mercilessly years ago when they were both kids.  As fate would have it, Anna is now one of the head instructors at the kindergarten where Ludo has been sentenced to complete his community service.  Unsurprisingly, Anna doesn’t like Ludo.  If you’ve ever seen a romantic comedy before, you can pretty much guess where the story goes from here.

Truth be told, I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for rom-coms.  Yes, they’re cheesy and maudlin, but they’re typically cheery enough to make for a decent and light night at the movies.  Keinohrhasen does follow the rom-com mold well enough, but Anna’s hatred for Ludo is so over the top in the first act that her character really has nowhere left to go from that point on.  As a result, she comes off quite flat and her sudden emotional turns are hardly credible.  Ludo takes Anna’s rage and hatred in stride, never quite being bothered enough by any of it to create any sort of on screen chemistry between the two.  Because of this, the relationship between Ludo and Anna barely takes on any more significance than any of Ludo’s past one night stands do.  The film then evolves into a series of predictable plot points crammed with filler, in order to push this sucker past the 100 minute mark.

Rather unsurprisingly, Keinohrhasen‘s positive box office response has sent Hollywood calling, and an American remake is already in the works.  I can’t see the film being improved upon by a watered down Hollywood remake – in fact what gives Keihohrhasen its little bit of edge are the bits that are too risque for American audiences.  Those portions: the sometimes problematic status of Ludo’s cunnilingus skills, or Ludo being such a classy guy that even the porno films he watches are arty, black and white affairs, for example, will doubtlessly be the first to go.  Schweiger’s film might simply be a rabbit without ears, but I’m willing to bet that an American remake will be a rabbit without everything else.

-Mike

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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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Der Baader Meinhof Komplex (The Baader Meinhof Complex) (2008)

Director: Uli Edel

Screenplay: Bernd Eichinger, Uli Edel, Stefan Aust (Book)

Early last year, a German friend of mine was going through a list of German films that I needed to see.  As he finished up his list, I couldn’t help but noticing that one film in particular – one film that had found its way into both the Oscar and BAFTA nominations for best foreign film that year – was missing.  “What about The Baader Meinhof Complex?” I asked.  His brow instantly furrowed and his mouth twisted up as though I had just forced him to eat something particularly foul.  “It’s shit,” he hissed, “Stay away from it.  Don’t even watch it.”  So adamant about me not seeing the film was he, that I actually did stay away from it.  Until now.  After deciding that it finally was time to make my own mind up about it all, I sought out Der Baader Meinhof Komplex and gave it a chance.

In the early 1970’s, a group of radical, left wing, militant German activists known as the RAF (Red Army Faction) or more commonly, The Baader-Meinhof Group, was formed.  Espousing Marxist-Leninist beliefs and a desire to overthrow what they believed to be a fascist German state, the group was responsible for numerous bombings, 34 murders and various bank robberies.  With that little taste of background, I’ve officially provided just as much, if not slightly more information about the group than the entire film does in its 150 minute running time.

Due to director Uli Edel’s desire to place the group’s actions over any actual insight into even one of its members, the film plays out as little more than a repetitive series of violent episodes.  Edel seems to feel that the film somehow moves at a better momentum with an entire host of zero/one dimensional characters.  Yes it’s clear that these people will sacrifice everything in order to pursue their revolutionary goals, but why?  Who are these people?  What leads a horde of middle class German twenty-somethings to wage war on the state in 1970?  (I’m assuming that it’s 1970 because one of the film’s most persistently annoying aspects is the lack of any sort of titles, leaving the viewer clueless as to specific dates, times and locations.)

As the film progresses, the characters become increasingly indistinguishable from one another – an intentional attempt at illustrating the suffocating homogeny of the group, perhaps, but monotonous all the same.  Bombs go off, guns are fired and group members are either arrested or killed without so much as a modicum of effort rendered toward showcasing more than just Rebellion.  To be completely honest, none of these characters really even seemed to like one another much, which is odd considering that their goals appeared to be one and the same.

The film does have its share of interesting and dare I say intriguing moments, but what tension or excitement these build up is quickly diluted by repeating the same processes again and again without any further insight into what’s actually taking place.  The great German actress Martina Gedeck’s portrayal of Ulrike Meinhof comes the closest to a protagonist as the film has to offer, but Meinhof as an upper class, socially conscious journalist who leaves her adulterous husband is hardly enough to justify her joining the ranks of the RAF.  In the end we’re left with zero understanding of the issues that surrounded the RAF and because of this, a trip to Wikipedia would be a more productive means of trying to come to terms with these people than 150 minutes of ‘splosions ever could be.

-mike

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Filed under Biopic, European Cinema, Germany, Mike, Uncategorized, War