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Dieter Hallervorden is a legend in German comedy, not always for subtle irony, but more for straight slapstick and and in-your-face embarrassing situations. He is also a subtle observer of everyday madness, though, which he puts on stage for decades at his Berlin comedy stage. Now around 80ish, it is very interesting to see him leave behind the slapstick public image for good, but retain somehow his rebellious streak in a film about a former marathon runner who decides that life in a retirement home with people forcing you to do chestnut handicraft for half the year and singing along to Christian campfire songs for the other half is not what he had in mind for his final years.

You could play this hilarious, but director Kilian Riedhof decided to play it straight, and sad, and depressing, which works all the better because he has Hallervorden at centre stage, with his credible down-to-earth personality and the twinkle in his eyes that defies authority and saves the audience from getting put off by the sometimes bleak prospects provided.

The story is as straightforward as it can get: he decides to break out of the routine, and despite massive resistance from the institution and also his family, to run the Berlin marathon one final time, more than 50 years after his careers ended in glory. The way this plays out is well developed, with a clarity of narration and drama that cannot be found in German cinema too frequently. It has a bit of a Hollywood story arc to it, but with this story I felt this was exactly what was needed. It balances the laughs with the tears, and there is plenty of both. The film does not shy away from the terrible aspects of ageing and dying, but it also does not shy away from staying relaxed about it. As there’s nothing you can do about it anyway, you can just as well have some fun while you’re at it. This is frank and uncompromising at times, and embraces you with warm-heartedness and joy at others.

Maybe it sometimes plays out a bit too slick, and maybe not all the supporting cast can keep up with it, but all in all, I was pleasantly surprised by this very professional approach to telling a somehow local story in a global way.

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