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Things are not going too well in Franz Brenninger’s life: his wife is sick, his business is pushing towards insolvency, he has manic-depressive fits and a general tendency to insult everybody coming near him, including occassionally the bank clerk who tries to do everything to keep Franz alive, at least for another while. His kids are estranged and desperate. The only refuge he finds in music, which he listens to at full volume on the headphones while drinking and smoking away his desperation and trying to de-numb his life. He sees a chance of getting rid at least of his financial woes (deepened by a necessary eye operation for his wife) when he is approached by an African businessman who seeks his help for getting 15 Million dollars out of his country. When the transaction gets troublesome, Franz decides to travel to Kenya to sort it out.

I really want to love this film, because I believe in the great talent of the young director, the boundless abilities of Hans Steinbichler as an actor, and the congenial situation created when they wirk together (for which “Hierankl” is evidence, case closed!). But there was a point in the movie where I was about to shout out loud “No, don’t spoil it all with this stupidity! Try harder, for Christ’s sake!”. Franz falls for a scam that most people know today (and did in 2006, when the film was made), only Franz and the young girl helping him with the translations are the only people on the planet never to have heard of it. While the assistant suspects a scam, she never insists or shows Franz the evidence that surely can easily be found anywhere by a half-wit twen with internet access. A film can fall apart and you never know what happened and where it went wrong. Not here: what is wrong is easily to be identified, the only question is whether a viewer can live with it or not.

Now what do you make of a film that is beautifully shot, fabulously played by a lead actor who is a force of nature, and who has a blast at playing his manic and his depressed phases, plus wonderful locations in both Bavaria and Kenya – what do you make of it when the story that is driving the characters is so annoyingly simplistic, on the verge of insulting the intelligence and experience of its audience, which is educated and bright enough to watch German arthouse movies? I cannot really forgive that, it leaves a big scar on my memory of the film, but I can develop independent appreciation of all the film’s virtues. And the greatest virtue apart from Bierbichler’s acting may be the use of music. While Franz is usually blowing his brains out with some indy rock, the film contrasts this with the use of Schubert’s Winterreise, an eerily beautiful piece of music that does not only reflect Brenninger’s own journey, with all its dark places and dangerous turns, but that actually shoves itself into the centre of attention when Franz encounters it twice: once during a nightly car ride, and once during the culminative events in Kenya. There he takes ownership for this travel, he sings it himself, and allows it to guide him through the rest of the story.
If only it had not been for this damned stupid Kenya scam plot device! Errr!

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