'Bittersweet': Filmart/Hong Kong Review

Courtesy of Neptunia Pictures
Ambitious but falls a little short of the mark.

Sound designer Krishna Ashu Bhati steps behind the camera for this gritty yet uneven drama with a stellar turn by newcomer Lisa Brand.

The directorial debut of sound designer and composer Krishna Ashu Bhati, Bittersweet is an ambitiously crafted drama that makes revealing statements about affluent capitalist societies and the clash of old and new values, but fails to deliver due to sketchy characterization and weak acting — though Lisa Brand is certainly a talent to watch out for.

Mina (Brand), a would-be German med school student, decides to move out of her conservative parents’ sumptuous home to live with her sister, Mandy, a prostitute. Almost immediately, Mina meets and falls in love with Tony (Manuel Armando Cortez), a DJ, at a friend’s party. She soon finds out about Tony’s financial problems when debt collectors coerce both of them into repayment. Failing to get help from family and friends, she takes up her sister’s proposition of selling her virginity.

The film makes an interesting point about the limited options available to people who opt for a non-mainstream path and youngsters trying to gain independence. Everyone has a ‘dream’ — even the gangster has his swingers club — but everyone gets sucked into one thing or another. Drugs, sex, money, the Internet are their vices and the fillers of their vapid lives.

Above all this, Mina stands like Venus on a seashell. She has a propensity for spacing out, which doesn’t just happen at her parents’ middle-class home, but even when she’s with Tony at her sister’s boudoir. This sets her apart from the other characters who all try but fail to rise above themselves. She becomes disillusioned and her decision at the very end of the film paints a terribly bleak picture of the future for dropouts from the mainstream in an era when bankers become bankrupt. Brand shines as a 19-year-old who demonstrates equal parts vulnerability and confidence. Behind her pensive gullibility lurks a razor-sharp intelligence that evokes Emma Stone.

Tony and his LSD-dropping hippie friends rave about healing and mindfulness in '70s garb, but none of the talk ever gets above clichés. Tony is a potentially interesting character, but sometimes leaves you scratching your head. He’s superficial, narcissistic and seems to like Mina. Yet the superficiality, the narcissism, the fondness for her — none of it convinces. There’s a nagging insincerity about him, thanks as much to the writing as the acting, that undermines even the superficiality. This makes his reactions at pivotal moments in the film, like when in bed with Mina and at the end when the debtors knock, downright baffling.

The music and insights into European psyculture will be eye-opening to audiences unfamiliar with the scene.

Production company: Neptunia Pictures GmbH
Cast: Lisa Brand, Manuel Cortez, Steffen C. Jürgens, Milton Welsh, Stefan Lampadius
Director-screenwriter: Krishna Ashu Bhati
Producer: Neptunia Pictures GmbH
Director of photography: Christoph Wieczorek
Production designer: Yvonne von Krockow
Costume designer: Petra Fassbender
Editor: Matthias Semmler
Music: Martin Hertel
World sales: WIDE

Not rated, 95 minutes