Hotel Very Welcome

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Los Angeles Film Festival

Clueless when it should be clued-in and unfocused rather than incisive, the German feature "Hotel Very Welcome" presents an unflattering series of ugly tourist poster children bumbling around Asia. Festival presentations aside, this marginally diverting film may find that Continental arthouse distributors or broadcasters may respond to its Eurocentric mindset.

Displaying surprising unfamiliarity with local cultural norms and prevailing social issues, writer-director Sonja Heiss follows a variety of dislocated young tourists self-indulgently seeking insight or escape in Asia. Befuddled Irish backpacker Liam (Chris O'Dowd) travels from the deserts of Rajasthan to the beaches of Goa in search of India's best marijuana. In rare moments of drug-induced lucidity, he acknowledges that he's on the run from the prospect of imminent parenthood, occasioned by an ill-advised one night stand.

In nearby Pune, German tourist Marion (Eva Lobau) is visiting India to discover herself, settling into a Western-oriented ashram-cum-resort where self-affirming group sing-alongs and Sufi-inspired dancing to trance music substitute for anything approaching a genuine spiritual quest.

In Thailand meanwhile, bickering Brit buddies Josh (Ricky Champ) and Adam (Gareth Llewelyn) cruise the tourist beaches in search of the next tropical dance rave. Stuck in a Bangkok hotel room, lonely-hearted Svenja (Svenja Steinfelder) strikes up a desultory phone flirtation with a marginally English-speaking Thai travel agent.

Heiss, making her feature debut, struggles to elicit sympathetic performances from her cast, despite the inspirationally exotic locales. The quirky humor she attempts rarely connects, leaving the characters looking awkward, pathetic or both, while the episodic storylines rarely connect, disrupting narrative cohesion.

The film's docu-style visual design is offhandedly accomplished as Heiss directs with spontaneous realism, tracking the wandering characters at close range. Production values are sometimes rough but adequate for the film's modest scale.

Production company: Komplizen Film. Cast: Chris O'Dowd, Eva Lobau, Ricky Champ, Gareth Llewelyn, Svenja Steinfelder. Director: Sonja Heiss. Screenwriters: Sonja Heiss, Nikolai von Graevenitz. Producers: Janine Jackowski, Maren Ade, Sonja Heiss. Director of photography: Nikolai von Graevenitz. Music: The Festival and Christian Garcia. Costume designer: Nicole von Graevenitz. Editors: Natali Barrey, Vincent Pluss, Patrick Lambertz. Sales agent: Celluloid Dreams. No rating, 90 minutes.
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