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Cinema Signal:

The New German Cinema:
Music, History, and the Matter of Style

. "In July"(aka, "Im Juli")

It's not everyday that a film lives up to its marketing hype, but imagine my surprise when I came across this German delight out of the DVD bins. The promos point out that, "ever since "Run Lola Run" raced across the Atlantic and rang in a new era in German filmmaking, Teutonic comedy has ceased to be an oxymoron." The claim is applicable to this picaresque road movie.

To get it moving, we open on a lonely highway. An approaching car on the desolate road pulls to a sudden stop as the landscape grows dark. The driver, Isa (Mehmet Kurtulus), a strongly built young man, looks up at a solar eclipse. When it passes, he checks the source of a strange smell in his trunk. As he's about to resume his journey, a hand taps him and he goes wild. The hand tapper turns out to be Daniel Bannier (Moritz Bleibtreu, "Run Lola Run"), a school teacher in math. After a tussle, pleas for a ride, and a zany accident, the pair travel on, heading for Turkey.

Since the journey is a long one, Isa encourages Daniel to relate the story behind his heading for Istanbul to reunite with the love of his life. Though the storyline goes beyond his own perspectives, we see the chain of events, beginning with July (Christiane Paul) (pronounced yu'-lee) spotting Daniel on a Hamburg street where she sells trinkets with a friend. After informing her friend that she sees something special in this less than commanding but attractive young man, she calls him over and sells him a ring with an image of the sun, explaining its magical properties to help him find his true love, a woman who will also be wearing a reference to the big star in the sky.

After parting, with a suggestion to meet at an outdoor fest, the shy Daniel meets beautiful tourist Melek (Idil Uner) who is wearing a tee shirt with a sun emblem. As they leave together, July arrives with her friend and, spotting her guy with another woman, assumes all bets are off. After spending the night walking around with Melek, Daniel is convinced he's met the portent of the ring and duly falls in love. But she's off the next day to meet her boyfriend under a bridge in Istanbul.

Daniel decides to abandon his intentions to remain in Hamburg for the summer and takes off on a journey to Istanbul in a friend's car in order to reunite with Melek and declare his love. As he starts out of town, July is hitching a ride for her annual pilgimage to wherever the first car that stops for her is going. The trip is on, but it's a ride with uneven emotions, incompatible intentions and uncharted roads.

Through a variety of circumstances, they split up and, incredibly, join up at critical junctures. While on one of the solo legs of the journey, Daniel meets the wickedly dangerous Luna (Branka Katic), a sexy Yugoslavian gypsy beauty driving a van, who winds up dancing wildly, spiking his drink and stealing his ring and wallet. Ah, but this fun-loving predator gets her due and Daniel gets his ring back.

He also runs back into Melek at an airport, loses her again and, when he does, realizes who he has to meet under that bridge.

As this set of unlikely, completely contrived series of episodes unspools, you find yourself enchanted by the question of whether the dummy will ever realize that he's not connecting with his perfect mate, a woman with uncanny eyes, fascinating presence and a steady, patient love for him. The simmering discovery that the object of the ring enchantment is the girl riding next to him is the destination and design of the story. It's romantic, upbeat and entirely engrossing. For me, it is the surprise of 2004.

Overlooking the occasional awkwardness in staging and/or editing, writer-director Fatih Akin, born in Hamburg to Turkish parents, has a steady hand on making this work with a heartwarming sense of whimsy. Besides good pacing, superb casting and clever plotting he has the taste and judgement to not compromise on the seductive qualities of July's "competition," choices that might not occur in American films with major boxoffice stars. But Akin's casting doesn't just pay off; it demonstrates a fine eye for the qualities of a performer.

Bleibtreu's almost too-innocent shy guy works and his wider cinema familiarity will help sell the venture, but it's his co-star who givess us the emotional mileage of the drive. And, as distracting as the other women in it are, it's when Paul reappears that you feel you're "home," so powerfully does her calm manner and gentle eyes captivate. This fascinating, scruptious lady from Berlin has many German movie credits but can one hope she may pull off another Franka Potente ("Run Lola Run," "The Bourne Identity") and become a star of greater magnitude?

Akin's film took its time to become available. Originally distributed theatrically in Germany in 2000, it's been working its way around the world in festivals ever since and was finally picked up for DVD release this year, 2004. This romance of a film deserves far better and I can only advise everyone who visits here to go out and either buy it or rent it. If you had a good time with "Alex and Emma," "Le Divorce," or "The Notebook," waste no time because this is the charmer!

The DVD contains interviews, the German trailer and 5.1 surround sound.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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                                                           ~~ Laerke 


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Christiane Paul and Moritz Bleibtreu
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