Halbe Treppe



Grill Point : Germany 2002 : Andreas Dresen : 105 mins

Accessible comedy-drama examining the ups and downs of two couples in their late thirties, residing in Frankfurt – but that’s not the prosperous city in the western half of Germany, it’s Frankfurt-Oder, the nondescript burg in the old east, not far from the Polish border. It’s a much more appropriate backdrop for what’s a very small-scale, well-observed, character-based piece, though Dresen is surely going too far by claiming his movie’s ‘jam-session character makes it a form of cineastic jazz.’ He also cites Mike Leigh as a major influence, not that he really needs to – Halbe Treppe strains much too hard to be Life Is Sweet, right down to having a Tim Spall lookalike (Axel Prahl) struggling to make a living in the catering trade.

His establishment is a fry-up establishment located ‘halfway on the stairs’ – the literal translation of the German title, one whose shadings (they’re at the mid-point of their lives, and their relationships are poised at a crucial juncture) are completely lacking from the galumphing, very un-English sounding Anglophone version. Considering it was constructed, Leigh-style, from cast improvisations, the script ploughs an established furrow reasonably well, and there’s a terrific running joke involving a DJ called ‘Magic’ Chris (Thorsten Merten) who uses the daily horoscope as a means to pass messages to his friends and, later, as therapy for his personal problems depressions. It helps that Merten is worryingly fluent in this quasi-mystical zodiac-speak: “The sun is at loggerheads with Pluto. later on your enermy cycle will slump to zero.”

The decision to interrupt the action for ‘interviews’ with the main protagonists, however, is as disastrous as the identical gimmick in Ed Burns’ Sidewalks of New York, even if this a hundred times more likeable, approachable and amusing piece of work, with a jaunty soundtrack from a local outfit called ’17 Hippies’ who gradually appear over the course of the 105 minutes in another effective running gag. But there’s nothing new or necessarily cinematic going on here: just as there’s no especially good reason for it to be shot on DV, apart from cost, there’s really no good reason for it to be a feature film at all.

1st March, 2002
(seen 12 Feb 02, Berlin Film Festival)

by Neil Young
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