Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 04, 2024 7:16 pm 
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Too much fun

By night, Mark (Frederick Lau) is a gnarly, energetic 35-year-old heavy drinking denizen of Berlin's lively bar and party nightlife. By day, if he can pull himself together, he is a highly accomplished and respected construction boss with a reputation for fair dealing and mastery of the job. The coordination of these two incompatibles begins to stop working, as it must. The fracture begins, along with the action of this film, when Mark tries to move his SUV out of a no parking zone while drunk and gets a DUI and a suspended license.

Mark starts riding a bike, which if anything is even more dangerous when you're drunk. He is also forced to attend a class taught by a guru-like recovering alcoholic, Dr. Blau (Godehard Giese). Props to director Markus Goller for differentiating some of the other class members. Mark tells Dr. Blau the sole reason he's in this class is to get his license back. He'll acknowledge he has another reason - that he has a problem with alcohol - only toward film's end. The change of viewpoint comes about partly through his involvement with a fellow DUI pupil, Helena (Nora Tschirner). Partly he simply develops self awareness and wises up.

You watch this film for the gutsy performance of Frederick Lau in the lead and the intensity of the scenes. Lau is fearless and convincing in his depiction of Mark's drunken excesses, which are usually public. There's more drunken behavior than is comfortable to watch. This would seem almost an instructional film about alcoholism, addiction, and recovery, if such a film were really well made and well acted. Only it fails to touch on all the main points of addiction and recovery. There is nothing about twelve step or other peer-support recovery programs based on total abstinence and continuing lifelong regular meetings. One can't say one misses the by now familiar movie ritual of folding chairs in a circle and addicts sharing, kept to a minimum here. But anyone familiar with addiction and recovery will feel uncomfortable with the impression given here that a hard core alcoholic can be expected to recover on his own or without more organized follow-up.

Burak Yigit gives a strong performance as Nadim, Mark's best friend. Nadim seems to be able to drink a lot, participate in Berlin's fabled night life, yet somehow keep it a wholesome, enriching part of life, or seeming that way. With Nadim one pictures a good meal, a choice bottle, and a tall crystal glass, savoring the bouquet before taking a swallow. With Mark the image is of running around, gulping from the bottle, and getting messy; and sometimes, like when he relieves himself on an antique chair thinking it's a toilet seat, falling into embarrassing, even disgusting behavior he's unaware of during his nightly binges and after they have happened.

Mark and other members of Dr. Blau's class can't remember such actions or deny they ever happened, like the elderly woman who insists she never drinks more than two glasses of wine of an evening, when a very high blood alcohol count for her is on the record.

Helena and Mark are partners in defiance, but after Mark struggles with his bet against Nadim that he can stay sober for three months and can't get past 27 days, despite all the feisty lap-swimming and smoothie quaffing, Mark and Helena team up to help each other stay sober. That project also ends very badly.

This is a movie in which a lot happens, and yet nothing happens: just getting drunk, getting sober, getting drunk, and getting sober again. But along the way lessons are learned. And the circles of folding chairs and the shares in the church basement and the story of lifetime recovery are avoided - for better or for worse.

Though there is a pithy AA saying that the only meeting you're ever late for is your first one, the road to sobriety, in real life, is usually long. But given the repetition in the plot, it's not surprising that viewers have found One for the Road's run time to be longer than necessary. They seem to differ on what that run time is, giving 105 and 115 minutes. The version I saw appeared to clock in at 155.

Nonetheless, it's worthwhile stuff, especially if alcoholism interests you and/or has played a part in your life. But I noticed that Godehard Giese played an important role in Christian Petzold's 2018 film Transit (with the remarkable Franz Rogowski in the lead), a film one critic described as like "Casablanca, if written by Kafka." That is a German film of another level, a film that puzzles, surprises and haunts you.

One for the Road, 155 mins., was screened for this review as part of the 28th Berlin & Beyond Film Festival, presented by the Goethe-Institut San Francisco, will run April 18-20, 2024 at the historic Roxie Theater in San Francisco's Mission District, and April 21-22, 2024 at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood in Berkeley. It was the Opening Night film and its North American premiere with Markus Goller as a special guest. It opened theatrically in Germany October 26, 2023. Showtimes:
Apr. 18, 2024 at 6:00 PM – Roxie Theater, San Francisco
April 22, 2024 at 5:30 PM – Rialto Cinemas Elmwood, Berkeley

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