Gravity -- Film Review



BERLIN -- A mild-mannered bank-employee belatedly awakens his inner badass -- with predictably dire consequences -- in "Gravity," a promising if flawed calling-card feature debut from Maximilian Erlenwein.

It was garlanded with five awards at January's Max Ophuels Film Festival, designed to showcase new German talent, where the jury somewhat generously compared it with the work of the Coen brothers. Such praise may translate to festival exposure but, theatrically speaking, this wayward blend of genres and moods lacks sufficient weight to reach far beyond German-speaking audiences.

Erlenwein is certainly lacking nothing in terms of confidence, and socks over an extended pre-credits sequence with disarming boldness and brio. In a few brisk scenes we're introduced to Frederik (Fabian Hinrichs), a lanky thirtysomething loner. Still pining after -- and spying on -- Nadine (Nora von Waldstaetten), the girlfriend who dumped him seven years before he's thrown himself into his job as a loan-arranger in a Leipzig bank. But when one of his stressed-out customers calmly blows his brains out in front of him, Frederik's trauma provokes an early mid-life crisis that sees him get dangerously involved with a former schoolmate, Vince (Juergen Vogel.)

This unlikely duo's criminal escapades are sometimes played for semi-slapstick laughs, but there's also plenty of crunching, blood-spattering violence on view in a film which can never quite decide just how sympathetic our fresh-faced, slightly doofus-like protagonist is supposed to be.

By the time he's beating an innocent (if truculent) barfly to a pulp with a baseball bat, many viewers will wonder why they should care about his various woes. In addition, his transition from upstanding member of society to swaggering borderline psycho follows a well-trodden path as Frederik simultaneously gets out of his depth and, mentally, goes off the rails, in a manner familiar from numerous previous books, movies and teleplays.

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There's no faulting Hinrichs and Vogel's performances, which prove crucial to maintaining plausibility in a script which increasingly relies on unlikely developments and credibility-straining character-motivations -- on the latter front, von Waldsteatten doesn't get enough screen-time to enable Nadine's third-act actions to feel like anything other than scriptwriting contrivance.

Though the blandly titled "Gravity" feels best suited to small-screen exposure, Ngo The Chau's quietly lustrous 35mm cinematography is a consistent plus, exploring a somber-hued palette that matches the increasing darkness of Frederik's worldview. Jakob Ilja's propulsive score, meanwhile, provides some ironically jaunty counterpoints to the often disturbing shenanigans on view.

Venue: Berlin International Film Festival -- Perspektive Deutsches Kino
Production: Frisbeefilms, Berlin; ZDF, Mainz, in collaboration with DFFB, Berlin.
Cast: Fabian Hinrichs, Juergen Vogel, Nora von Waldstaetten, Jule Bowe, Eleonore Weisgerber, Thorsten Merten
Director: Maximilian Erlenwein
Screenwriter: Maximilian Erlenwein
Producers: Alexander Bickenbach, Manuel Bickenbach, Valeska Bochow
Co-producer: Lucas Schmidt
Director of photography: Ngo The Chau
Production designer: Petra Albert
Music: Jakob Ilja
Costume designer: Andrea Schein
Editor: Gergana Voigt
Sales: Telepool, Munich
No rating, 103 minutes