'Tour de force' ('Hin und weg'): Locarno Review

Courtesy of Festival del film Locarno
A disease-of-the-week movie with a few grave problems of its own

German actors Florian David Fitz and Jurgen Vogel go on a bike trip to the land of chocolate and euthanasia in this serio-comic tearjerker from director Christian Zuebert

The only novelty of the German disease-of-the-week movie Tour de force (Hin und Weg) is that it's a disease-of-the-week movie on wheels. Director Christian Zuebert and debuting screenwriter Ariane Schroeder try to graft serio-comic road-trip tropes onto a supposedly moving euthanasia drama, though the road to the film’s foretold dead end is filled with plot contrivances and maudlin sentimentality. Likely to be embraced by German-speaking audiences, also because of a name cast that includes Florian David Fitz and Juergen Vogel, this technically polished tearjerker stinks too much of local TV drama on the script level to have much of an impact elsewhere, a somewhat out-of-left-field Toronto slot notwithstanding.

Hannes (Fitz) and his wife, Kiki (Julia Koschitz), in their mid-thirties, go on an annual bike trip with a small group of friends that includes Hannes’ younger brother Finn (Volker Bruch), their womanizing friend Micha (Vogel) and the couple Mareike (Victoria Mayer) and Dominik (Johannes Allmayer), who always bicker in the bedroom.

This year, their destination is Ostend, Belgium (where Schroeder was born), though for most of the group, the reason behind this choice is only revealed during a stop for lunch at the home of Hannes and Finn’s emotional mother (Hannelore Elsner): Hannes has ALS (or Lou Gehrig's disease) and less than a year to live, and since he doesn’t want to spend his last months as an invalid, like his father did, he has decided to opt for assisted suicide — which is legal in Belgium — at the end of their bike trip.

To keep things from becoming too much of a two-wheeled funeral procession straight away, the friends have a tradition that involves each person having to do a challenge given in secret by someone else (which makes one wonder why the film wasn’t called Four Fun Dares and a Funeral). Most of the challenges are ridiculous or outrageous and all of them are childish; they include helping relieve Dominik's sexual frustration, impersonating the police to obtain weed for the uptight Mareike or — in a trans-misogynist and absolute comic low — showing up at a discotheque dressed as a woman for the skirt-chasing Micha, so he can literally be taught to stand in a girl’s shoes. Unfortunately, none of these situations is particularly uproarious and the way in which they neatly bring about character change is so predictable there’s never a sense of surprise.  

Instead, on the way to their beach-side destination, the characters owe up to things around the campfire as if on cue, laughing, crying and worrying together — and not once displaying an ounce of human behavior that might break them out of their well-defined molds. All the while, soothing, English-language indie rock accompanies them on their exhausting but theoretically character-building trip as if they were starring in a wordless cigarette commercial from the 1980s (deadly disease at the end of the road included).

All of the actors are professionals, but there’s only so much they can do with a screenplay that peddles the hoariest cliches, especially in the home stretch, when the characters are basically reduced to hug-and-tears providers around Hannes' Belgian death bed. Unfortunately, unlike Hannes, audiences aren’t even spared the obligatory "one year later" epilogue.  

Production companies: Majestic, ZDF, Viafilm, Sky

Cast: Florian David Fitz, Julia Koschitz, Juergen Vogel, Miriam Stein, Volker Bruch, Victoria Mayer, Johannes Allmay, Hannelore Elsner

Director: Christian Zuebert

Screenwriter: Ariane Schroeder, Christian Zuebert 

Producers: Florian Gallenberger, Benjamin Herrmann

Co-producer: Caroline von Senden

Director of photography: Ngo The Chau

Production designer: Kobita Syed

Costume designer: Monika Gebauer

Editor: Mona Braeuer

Composers: Siggi Mueller, Egon Riedel

Sales: Beta Cinema

No rating, 94 minutes