The German Comedy:
Scenes of Life After the Wall
by Peter Schneider
in Paperback from Amazon
(aka, "Sommer vorm Balkon")
Ten minutes into this and I was wondering what I was doing here. Two women, one so-so the other a babe; dull, not particularly interesting; modern unified Germany. First impressions.
Katrin Engel (Inka Friedrich), the so-so one, is a fortiesh divorced mother living on the dream of selling her paintings and the occasional alimony payment from her ex (or what passes for it in these parts). She's raising 12-year old son Max (Vincent Redetzki) who wants high end sneakers she can't afford. Nike (Nadja Uhl), (pronounced "Knee-ka," her name doesn't appear to be related to the sneakers in any way) is the hot one. Blond, fetching, and walks around in tight, minimal garments to accentuate a well-proportioned body. Plenty sexy. By occupation, she's a care-giver to the ageing. The two women are neighbors, friendly conspirators and confidants -- a mutual support group. Until, of course they start competing for the same man, which they do.
But, given the rather prosaic setup, getting into their world is a bit of a strain.
The changes into an engaging comedy begins when Katrin is nearly run down while walking in a distracted state across the street, causing a truck to skid to a stop and enraging the driver behind him whose car is smashed. Katrin, however, isn't bruised, not by the truck nor by the pelting of blame by driver Ronald (Andreas Schmidt), a gaunt, hook-nosed starvation subject from an orphanage. [kidding]. He divides the moment into fending off the enraged motorist while trying to tell Katrin that she ought look both ways before stepping into traffic.
The surprise, however, is that there's something going on with Nike. She's overcome by this guy. There's something about him. Love at first sight maybe. Maybe there's a musky endorphin in the air. Whatever it is, she thinks of little else until, one day, she crosses his path again, this time in a local bar. She brazenly heads off all comers, like the very pretty lady at the bar who seems to have eyes for him, as well. Like an animal staking out territory, Nike, a gal who knows what she wants when she wants it, slides into the booth next to Ronald and treats him and his buddy-roommate to a round of drinks.
Ronald (always correcting her when she calls him Roland, a running gag) recognizes a woman in heat as well as any prowling male, and plays it with cool detachment. Or is that really him? We don't really get a handle on this guy until the scenario plays itself out but let's say it's this character, with his deadpan minimalism and appeal beyond one's understanding who defines the movie. Gotta' be, because it's him and his geeky choices -- at once detached, roll playing, then more than a little involved -- providing the laughs here. More than once I said, "who is this guy?" And I found my admiration for the unexpected tickles he was generating greater each time. What we seem to have here is a Buster Keaton/Marty Feldman in Teutonic skin.
For the women, points are made about single parenting, loss of attraction, friendship, competition and support.
Andreas Dresen directs from a cleverly devised character comedy by Wolfgang Kohlhaase that's likely to go over the heads of many viewers. But those tuned into Germanic whimsy will appreciate how he subtly wraps us into concern for his central male lothario and an apparent mismatch that's antically original.
~~ Jules Brenner