Whiskey With Vodka -- Film Review

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BERLIN -- Having hit an unexpected commercial and critical bull's-eye at home with his tale of senior-citizen sex "Cloud Nine," prolific German director Andreas Dresen strikes a jauntier note in his follow-up, "Whisky With Vodka" (Whisky mit Wodka). Showcasing a delightful turn from veteran Henry Hubchen as a past-his-prime movie-star whose drunken antics imperil his latest production, it plays a little like "My Favorite Year" with a whimsical Woody Allen vibe.

Domestic boxoffice was respectable upon initial release last autumn, and the picture has since popped up at several film festivals farther afield. Deriving its title from a warning about the inadvisability of mixing one's drinks, this is well-crafted, crowd-pleasing, rather old-fashioned entertainment, ideal for more mature audiences.

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Its is Dresen's second collaboration with esteemed scriptwriter Wolfgang Kohlhaase after 2005's fine female-buddy picture "Summer in Berlin," and the screenplay plays to Kohlhaase's long-established strengths of characterization and dialogue. With Dresen as usual avoiding any strong directorial stamp, the result is primarily an actors' showcase - providing especially juicy roles for Hubchen as self-aggrandizing roue Otto, and also for Corinna Harfouch as Bettina, his leading-lady on 1920s-set romantic melodrama "Tango For Three."

An old flame of Otto's is now married to the film-within-the-film's harrassed, slightly pretentious director Martin (Sylvester Groth), who's become exasperated by Otto's inability to get through a simple scene without line flubs or some kind of outrageous improvization. The producers' drastic solution is to hire a "backup" just in case the imperious Otto (who airily mentions his "dear friend Mastroianni") can't complete the movie -- an implausible scenario, but one apparently inspired by real events during the 1950s.

Enter the hapless, wild-haired Arno (Markus Hering), a denizen of experimental theater whose vaguely spaced-out presence heightens Otto's insecurity and paranoia. Meanwhile, the off-camera bed-hopping starts to rival the romantic intrigues of "Tango for Three," with mildly farcical consequences.

Dresen and Kohlhaase choreograph the various liaisons and flirtations with reasonable aplomb, evoking the cozy but febrile atmosphere that quickly develops among "film families" -- especially if the shooting involves location work. Here the vagaries of funding ("you can't film the Bible on a dime," notes a cynical producer) mean that what was intended as a summery Riviera romp is shot on Germany's chilly Baltic coast, an opulent seafront hotel providing a suitably grand and nostalgic backdrop for this elegaic, if occasionally spiky, celebration of thespian eccentricity.
 
Venue: Berlin International Film Festival
Production companies: Senator, Berlin
Cast: Henry Hubchen, Corinna Harfouch, Sylvester Groth, Markus Hering, Valery Tscheplanowa
Director: Andreas Dresen
Screenwriters: Wolfgang Kohlhaase
Producer: Christopher Muller
Co-producers: Peter Rommel, Cooky Ziesche
Director of photography: Andreas Hofer
Production designer: Susanne Hopf
Music: Gunther Fischer, 17 Hippies
Costume designer: Sabine Greunig
Editor: Jorg Hauschild
Sales: The Match Factoryt, Cologne
No rating, 104 minutes
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