Superegos (Uber-Ich und Du): Berlin Review

Shrink-wrapped German humor gets lost in translation.

Freudian neurosis meets post-war German guilt in this ambitious but uneven comedy from writer-director Benjamin Heisenberg.

BERLIN -- The ghost of Sigmund Freud hovers just out of shot throughout this sunny, lightweight farce about an elderly psychotherapist forging an uneasy friendship with a street-smart criminal. The young writer-director Benjamin Heisenberg is back at the Berlinale four years after earning rave reviews here for his tense true-story crime thriller The Robber. But his sideways shift into comedy is less sure-footed, and this German-Austrian-Swiss co-production feels unlikely to travel beyond German-speaking countries. This may be purely because local humor rarely translates well, but Heisenberg's uncertainty with the material is also a factor.
Nick (Georg Friedrich) is an opportunistic con man who makes a shady living from buying, selling and stealing rare books. Gatecrashing a lakeside villa where he hopes to lie low from the gangsters he owes money to, Nick instead becomes a kind of caretaker companion for Curt (Andre Wilms), a well-known veteran psychoanalyst living with a heavy burden of guilt over his youthful success during the Nazi era.
Nick sees Curt as a meal ticket, while the old man embraces his anarchic new friend as a suitable case for treatment. In theory, Heisenberg has the ingredients here for a sparky odd-couple two-hander. Friedrich is a seasoned Austrian stage veteran who has worked with Michael Haneke and Ulrich Seidl, while the French-born Wilms has five decades of solid screen credits including films by Aki Kaurismaki, Patrice Leconte and Francois Ozon.

Their comic chemistry should yield rich material, especially when Nick begins to mirror Curt's neuroses, while the old man feels his crumbling mental faculties revitalized by having such a psychologically complex case to study. With its colorful visual backdrop of mountains and lakes, deluxe villas and hot air balloons, Superegos is easy on the eye.

Unfortunately, it is also hobbled by uneven shifts of tone and momentum, lurching off into superfluous subplots and labored slapstick. The cultured gangsters pursuing Nick, led by the stern matriarch Mutter (Maria Hofstatter), are cartoonish caricatures with no hint of menace. An extended sequences in which Curt buries Nick up to his neck in mud for therapeutic reasons becomes genuinely disturbing, and arguably belongs in a much darker film.

There are nods to Woody Allen here in the shrink-culture plot, plain credits and exuberant retro-jazz soundtrack, but with little of primetime Woody's zingy wit. Admirably ambitious, but less than the sum of its parts, Superegos will not go down  in history as one of Heisenberg's more memorable movies. More like a Freudian slip.

Production companies: Vega Film, Novotny & Novotny Filmproduktion, Peter Heilrath Filmproduktion
Producers: Janine Jackowski, Jonas Dornbach, Maren Ade
Cast: Georg Friedrich, Andre Wilms, Bettina Stucky, Susanne Wolff, Maria Hofstatter
Director: Benjamin Heisenberg<
Screenwriters: Benjamin Heisenberg, Josef Lechner
>Cinematography: Reinhold Vorschneider
Editors: Stefan Kalin, Andreas Wodraschke
Music: Lorenz Dangel
Sales company: Films Distribution, Paris
Unrated, 94 minutes

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