'The Best of All Worlds' ('Die beste aller Welten'): Film Review | Berlin 2017

Courtesy of Jeremy Miliker/Ritz Film
Motherhood vs. Addiction: The Movie.

Austrian director Adrian Goiginger's autobiographical feature debut premiered in the Perspektive Deutsches Kino section at the Berlinale.

An Austrian heroin addict tries to be the best mother she can be for her preteen son in the drama The Best of All Worlds (Die beste aller Welten). Seemingly inspired by the childhood of Salzburg-born writer-director Adrian Goiginger, this small-scale first feature certainly feels like a lived-in take on a loving mother-son relationship complicated by the irrationality, demons and bad friends that come with addiction. But what’s lacking is an original angle on what is, unfortunately, a rather familiar story. Part of the Perspektive Deutsches Kino section at the Berlinale, this well-intentioned and decently acted story should find a home in Mitteleuropa and at smaller festivals looking for intimate, personal stories.

Adrian (Jeremy Miliker) is a 7-year-old kid with a sense of adventure and a lively imagination. He wants to become an “adventurer” when he grows up, and his young mother, Helga (Verena Altenberger), tells him that if he really wants to become an adventurer he most certainly will. It's harder to explain for her to her son why she herself has trouble even hanging on to her job as a seller of sausages at a mobile stand in one of Salzburg’s parks and that even menial jobs are hard to keep if you're an addict in the thrall of "Brown Sugar."

It’s not that Helga doesn’t want to be a good mom, but that her need for heroin often clouds her judgment or outweighs any risks her son might run. She does realize, often after something has gone wrong or could have gone wrong, that her actions or inattention might have a negative impact on her offspring. Leaving him alone with a stoned and increasingly violent friend (Michael Pink) who forces vodka down the 7-year-old’s throat, for example, wasn’t a good idea and neither was giving him firecrackers to play with, which finally leads to a showdown with the stern director of Adrian’s school. Clearly, being a practically single mother — her deadbeat druggie boyfriend (Luka Miko) isn’t much help — is hard enough without having to deal with an impossible addiction.

Helga is clearly well-intentioned, however, and Adrian, who doesn’t know any better, more often than not seems to think his childhood is quite normal. However, Goiginger, who also wrote the screenplay, isn’t experienced enough to be able to convincingly combine this more naïve perspective with the family’s stark reality. Anyone with children will see some of the events depicted here like a true horror scenario, like when Helga and Adrian cook up a “magic potion” in her kitchen containing opiates that you just know will end up in the wrong hands.

Some scenes in which an adult (Gabriel Marian Skowerski) dressed like someone from the Middle Ages cuts his way through a virgin forest try to visualize Adrian’s desire for adventure, but these scenes aren’t developed enough to add much new insight into Adrian’s psyche and they often aren’t integrated in a way that helps advance the story, simply offering very brief breaks from Adrian’s dreary day-to-day instead. 

Miliker is an appealing child performer with lots of energy and a guileless look at the world around him, while Altenberger, in the more complex mother role, compellingly limns the woman’s inner struggles and many ups and downs. The supporting gallery of unsavory acquaintances is convincing, as is Veronika Merlin's grotty production design.

Music plays up the idyllic fairy-tale aspects of youth more often than the darker undercurrents, helping to avoid turning the film into too much of a depressing drama. Similarly, the agile cinematography helps to keep things lively. 

Production companies: Lailaps Pictures, Ritzl Film
Cast: Verena Altenberger, Jeremy Miliker, Lukas Miko, Michael Pink, Michael Fuith, Reinhold G. Moritz, Philipp Stix, Georg Veitl,
Gabriel Marian Skowerski, Fritz Egger
Director-screenwriter: Adrian Goiginger
Producers: Nils Dünker, Wolfgang Ritzberger
Executive producer: Wolfgang Ritzberger
Directors of photography: Yoshi Heimrath, Paul Sprinz
Production designer: Veronika Merlin
Costume designer: Monika Gebauer
Editor: Ingrid Koller
Music: Dominik Wallner
Casting: Angelika Kropej
Venue: Berlin International Film Festival (Perspektive Deutsches Kino)

No rating, 103 minutes

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