Tag Archives: film review

Sein letztes Rennen

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Just what I needed. It starts out with chuckles and giggles, then progresses to all-out incredulous laughter and clapping of hands. And yet, somehow, it manages to end with your nose buried deep inside a handkerchief, sniffing, bawling and crying your eyes out. I don’t know whether to call it brilliant, an emotional roller coaster, or simply therapy.

Because I have a feeling that is what the director of this movie believes: that we need therapy. All of us “normal” people, all of us “healthy and productive people”, young and middle-aged, we need this movie. The sandwich generation, the 30-somethings who have it all but not a clue what to do with it or how to master it.

Look carefully at Frau Müller, the chief supervisor in Kilian Riedhof’s recent film Sein letztes Rennen (His last race) and you will shudder. It is a little like looking in the mirror. I was painfully reminded that my 60-year-old parents still go to dancing parties while we are crushed by work, responsibilities and conventions at home, barely touching.

Paul Averhoff, a former marathon champion and adorably stubborn 80-year-old played by Dieter Hallervorden (a touching, first-class performance), challenges the contemporary obsession with preserving life in its physical form at the expense of spiritual freedoms and dignity.

Together with his wife Margot, he lives in a house full of memories and old furniture in the outskirts of Berlin. A good team, still going about their daily routines with peaceful elegance and jolly spirits. But don’t be fooled. Old things break, and so do old people. The scene where he picks an apple from his own tree, in his own sunny garden, and casually avoids a broken rung on the ladder while stepping down can only be a bad omen.

You cannot keep avoiding disaster. Even though he is doing pretty well himself, his wife is not. We see her fall and hurt herself in the kitchen and we learn it is not the first time. A frantic daughter arrives. She is a stewardess living in a parallel world of international flights and empty designer hotel rooms, with “no private life” (as she puts it),  and “no friends” (as her parents put it). Obviously, she cannot look after the aging couple.

The nursing home is the only feasible solution. And so Margot and Paul find themselves transplanted over night in a depersonalized and cramped home for the elderly somewhere in the German capital, where one of the first things they lose is their dignity. At lunch, in the cafeteria, they eat from plastic saucers and the hierarchies are those of a kindergarten. (There is even a bully.) The personnel use patronizing baby talk and flex their muscles about every slight departure from the in-house norms. The other inhabitants seem long resigned with this being “the last station of their life” as the caregiver bluntly points out in a soft voice that is intended to purport concern. And while the characters in this movie all receive the best possible treatment for their failing bodies, their souls are crushed and vacated. Their motor abilities are kept alive by handicraft as vapid as the little men they build for the fall festival. Little men as frail and useless as themselves.

Paul alone cannot accept this kind of resignation. Death is forever present, but that does not mean we should wait around for it poking toothpicks into chestnuts. He can build something else. He can build a dream for himself and for the others. He can build himself a goal.

He wants to run the Berlin Marathon once again. After an initial reluctance on her part, he enlists the help of his wife and former trainer. Pushing a stopwatch in her hand, he starts running in the home’s park.

Needless to say, this has consequences on a variety of levels. The crippled retirees experience the thrill of something real for the first time in years and forget their wretchedness. The hospital staff and the estranged daughter are up in arms. The only sane individual in a society gone wrong, Paul stands out as a “problem”. The establishment, incapable of self-critique (with the exception of a casual young male nurse with a penchant for non-conformism and profanities) makes him out to be the disturbed one. All fingers are pointed at him, his every natural instinct and youthful action psychoanalyzed for signs of grave depression by the over-eager lonely supervisor with a frigid beauty and a serious helper syndrome.

Deep down, we all know (or think we know) what is possible. We know one cannot run away from death. Not all the time. We all know (or think we know) what roles others should content themselves with, after all, they have lived their lives.

Yet, if we keep our minds only slightly open, we all want to believe as well. We want to believe he can pull this off. For all our sakes. What if he is running not away from something, but towards something?

This is a point all the young characters around him (with the exception of above-mentioned male nurse) seem to have forgotten, or are unable to conceive, wrapped up in themselves and their jobs as they are. What if he is running not against something, but for something else? Once we flip the perspective, we can actually accomplish something, we can turn our lives around. There is still meaning out there.

A loved one disappears, another one is born. There are people around us who will always need us for something. As long as we “never stand still”. As long as we “always keep going”. Paul Averhoff makes that journey and he is kind enough to let us tag along.

Courtesy of Amazon

Picture taken from Amazon.de

Sein letztes Rennen is running at cinemas around Munich this week. Don’t miss it! (Prices around €8.50.)

Lincoln. A film

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I have to hand it to Spielberg. At least he stayed away from grandiose productions this time. And, to his credit, he managed to steer clear of the usual pitfalls: the temptation of that eye-watering Messianism so often associated with U.S historical events, flamboyant speeches about democracy and world-saving feats.

The movie deals with abolitionism. More precisely, it depicts Lincoln’s struggle to pass the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibiting slavery, and the underlying political wrangling to get the necessary votes at the beginning of his second term in office. The South is exhausted, the bloody American Civil War – which has already cost 600,000 lives –  is drawing towards an imminent end. Everyone is against his move. Why now? We gradually find out. We gradually get an inkling of his astute legal and political thinking. Most of this film happens in the somewhat shady and modest interiors of the White House, most of it happens in Lincoln’s office, between his papers, his war maps and his conscience. This tall bearded fellow who likes to make a point by telling a story, who has had little formal education but ponders Euclid’s laws with his own telecommunication engineers (boys in their 20s awed by his presence) in a White House basement floor late at night. This father of the nation, reelected with crushing majority, with his self-control and his stature. Stature, above all. Literally. But figuratively too. This Lincoln who acts more like a grandfather actually, including to his own youngest son. This wise aging man, this preoccupied benefactor who remains calm in the face of death, in face of a frantic wife tormented by the fear of losing yet another son, in face of a Negro’s ranting and… well, just about everything, really.

I was excited about the movie coming out of the theater last night. A large part of that has worn off in the meantime. Maybe due to the fact that it isn’t that plausible, that arresting after all. Maybe because we already know how it’s going to turn out, so it’s really hard to accumulate dramatic tension and maintain it – after all, this isn’t fiction. As soon as the emotion fades away, what you are left with is a fabulous Daniel Day Lewis (I love this actor and have been in love with him since “Nine”), and an equally great Tommy Lee Jones, rough around the edges, smart and cerebral as usual, the perfect supporting actor. Sally Field also makes a great part as Mrs. Lincoln, although somehow I was left wanting more, some more background, or some more follow-up. I also liked his Secretary of State and – perhaps most of all – the fat, beer-drinking, crab-smashing, cigar-smoking “lobbyist” who drops a scintillating and hilarious “Oh, fuck!” when Lincoln himself enters the room.  🙂  Great touch of commercial genius from Spielberg, using his utterances to counterbalance all those pompous, adjective-laden, Founding-Fathers-type phrases.  Most of the other actors, however, were pretty lackluster and completely depth-free. Perhaps there wasn’t enough time for more shades of gray, for more foraging into psychological and political dilemmas. Occasionally, even the not-so-ethical political give and take seems endearingly benign compared to modern-day political thrillers.

But enough. This film is really about Lincoln. There is just enough background, tension and dynamism to profile him and pay him an unapologetic homage. The man, the conscience, the stories. And boy, can the guy tell stories. To the point of exasperation. Members of his cabinet flip out as soon as they sense another one coming. And boy, can the guy drag his feet. Except about freeing slaves. But for me personally, it was precisely these stories, this persuasion through parables and exemplification, and his ridiculous feet which were the real treats. They brought the character to life as a real person.

Go see this movie. If you miss it, you might never find out why George Washington’s portrait is so appropriate in a British toilet.