EmptyMUNICH -- "Good Times" ("Beste Zeit") is fettered with an unfortunate title in English, a slow start and some clunky dialogue. But hot young director Markus H. Rosenmueller's third film, which is intended to be the first in a trilogy, is a fresh and ultimately touching look at the reality that no matter where or how you live, growing up is hard to do.
Sure to be a popular follow-up to his first two films, "Heavyweights" and "Grave Decisions," both of which were hits in Germany, "Good Times" may not have much of an international run outside of selected arthouse theaters and festivals. But it is well worth seeing for the immersion in a culture that is pure cliche to most Americans, and for the wonderful performance of Anna Maria Sturm, Rosenmueller's latest discovery.
Sturm plays Kati, who turns 17 as soon as the film's expository bits are completed. She lives on a farm and loves it. She has a best friend (Jo, played well by Rosalie Thomass) with whom she sneaks off at night in the old family van to smoke, drink and philosophize. She's crazy about local boy Mike (Florian Brueckner), who, like most 18-year-old guys, is more interested in hanging out with his friends and stringing her along in order to deflower her than in having a serious relationship.
Her parents don't keep her on a particularly tight leash: Kati's father (Andreas Giebel) complains when she drinks a bottle of wine he had been saving, and her mother (Johanna Bittenbinder) sees Kati's cigarettes while tidying up her room - and hides them again instead of confronting her.
Then, on her 17th birthday, Kati receives notice that she has been accepted into an exchange student program in the U.S., and will be leaving her familiar life in a matter of weeks. From the beginning she is undecided about her adventure. Kati's infatuation with Mike and her affection for Jo eventually conflict with her rebelliousness against her father's typical Bavarian -- read: chauvinistic and selfish -- attitude towards his blossoming daughter. When everything seems to be falling to pieces around her, and not even her mother's attempts at peacemaking are tolerable, Kati has to decide whether freedom really means uprooting herself, or if independence can also be won at home.
Karin Michalke's script, based on her own adolescence in a tiny Bavarian farming village (where the film was shot), is always true to the emotional cadences of her characters and the barriers they build between themselves and others. The love and friendship storylines, for all their predictability, are genuine, while the family conflicts are portrayed with understanding and tenderness.
Rosenmueller deftly shifts between the humor of teenage pranks and the misery of being 17 and not knowing where you belong. But it is in Anna Marie Sturm's achievement as a young actress that Kati's troubles become universal, instead of being confined to a Bavarian backwater.
Monaco Film Hamburg
Director: Marcus Rosenmueller
Writer: Karin Michalke
Producers: Nils Duencker, Joke Kromschroeder
Executive producer: Tom Blieninger
Director of photography:Helmut Pirnat
Production designer: Johannes Sternagel
Music: Gerd Baumann
Co-producer: Dr. Cornelia Ackers
Costume designer: Walter Schwarzmeier
Editor: Anne Loewer
Kati: Anna Marie Sturm
Jo: Rosalie Thomass
Mike: Florian Brueckner
Kati's father: Andreas Giebel
Kati's mother: Johanna Bittenbinder
Rocky: Ferdinand Schmidt-Modrow
Running time -- 95 minutes
No MPAA rating