Grave Decisions

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BERLIN -- It will come as no surprise to anyone that the Germans have produced another film about death and dying.

But it is a surprise to discover that it is light-footed, entertaining, warmly human and utterly charming. For that is exactly what "Grave Decisions," a modest gem of a movie, is. The picture, which won a clutch of year-end honors in Germany, is stirring interest internationally.

Director Marcus Hausham Rosenmueller and co-writer Christian Lerch have created a funny and inventive tale of a young boy trying to figure out the world he was thrown into in an unusual and wholly charming way. Although the film will lose some of its charm when viewed with subtitles (the original is acted in a thick Bavarian accent that even made it hard for many northern Germans to follow), there is still plenty of human warmth here to give ticket buyers a bounce in their step as they leave theaters.

The story centers on 11-year-old Sebastian (played fluidly and convincingly by Markus Krojer), growing up in a picturesque Bavarian village with an older brother and a single father who runs the village tavern. The combination of Catholic liturgy, Bavarian folklore and the silly talk of the bar regulars makes for a strange childhood to begin with, but when Sebastian learns that his mother died while giving birth to him, he becomes fascinated with death, dying and immortality. (The German title translates as "The sooner you die, the longer you stay dead.")

Sebastian's experiments take him from one mishap to another. He takes the advice of the bar regulars all too literally, which gets him into trouble, and he gets into more trouble when he receives "signs" from his dead mother telling him to steal (and learn to play) a guitar, to set up his father with a married woman and more. And because he believes he has already killed his mother, it's a small step toward committing murder. He comes close to that again and again.

"Grave Decisions" never makes the mistake other filmmakers have by trying to make comedies about death by becoming morbid. Although this story of growing up is told through Sebastian's eyes, everything is intertwined with the denizens of his little Bavarian village, a variety of believable yet slightly eccentric personalities, like the rock 'n' roll DJ who gives spiritual advice over the air. Rosenmueller's terse, unpretentious direction saves the village from falling into picturesque "Heidi"/Alpine village cliches.

GRAVE DECISIONS
Roxy Film/BR Television
Credits:
Director: Marcus Hausham Rosenmueller
Screenwriters: Marcus Hausham Rosenmueller, Christian Lerch
Producers: Annie Brunner, Andreas Richter, Ursula Woerner
Executive producers: Cornelia Ackers, Bettina Reitz
Director of photography: Stefan Biebl
Editors: Anja Pohl, Susanne Hartmann
Art director: Michael Koening
Costume designer: Steffi Bruhn
Music: Gerd Baumann
Cast:
Sebastian: Markus Krojer
Lorenz: Fritz Karl
Veronika: Jule Ronstedt
Alfred Dorstreiter: Jurgen Tonkel
Frau Kramer: Saskia Vester
Franz: Franz Xaver Bruckner
Sepp Graudinger: Johann Schuler
Proske: Sepp Schauer
Gumberger: Heinz Josef Braun
Irmengard: Tim Seyfi
Running time -- 105 minutes
No MPAA rating
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