It’s hard to criticize something as excessively agreeable as the German comedy-drama / road movie Hin und Weg (Tour De Force) without sounding like a heartless cynic. Decent in conception, sincere in direction, it has charity and good will to spare. But as a narrative feature it is direly underwritten and lands its impact mainly on the strength of the moving premise alone.
Director: Christian Zübert
Running Time: 95 minutes
An opening montage makes a quick head count of a group of youngish, very good-looking friends who have been making an annual biking trip together for years. Squeaky clean and enticingly lit, it also introduces us to the antiseptic, commercial-ready aesthetics of the film. We realize soon enough however, that it’s not all kissing, hugging and harmless banter this time around: not 15 minutes into the movie and plans for assisted suicide are announced. It turns out one of the friends, Hannes, has been secretly suffering under the incurable degenerative disease Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and his pick of Belgium as their destination this year has not been solely waffle-motivated. People cry, regroup and then soldier on, very swiftly persuaded that accompanying a young man to his chosen dying place would be the best thing they can offer. From there on the movie fares like The Bucket Listmeets Les petits mouchoirs (Little White Lies). Random dares are fulfilled, individual perspectives adjusted and simple joie de vivre recalibrated as it slowly sinks in that a loved one will soon be gone.
While it’s certainly not as broadly tactless as the Jack Nicholson / Morgen Freeman vehicle, the movie lacks the rich context of Guillaume Canet’s Gallic box office champ. The events along the journey that are supposed to be a sample of the thrills and bitterness of living; those which should, if not make sense of, then properly celebrate the cruel, beautiful transience of life, are not very memorably devised by screenwriter Ariane Schröder. Especially clumsy is, as usual, the strange sexual humor widely seen in mainstream German productions. There’s a whole subplot about the frustrated sex life of the wedded couple in the group, complete with an episode at a swingers’ club the troupe just happens to pass by. Not really funny and sorely implausible, at the end of it you just wish somebody would explain what it’s meant to convey.
Elsewhere, the audience might be inclined to forgive such equally unrealistic elements, such as the spontaneous outbreak of a mud fight lusciously shot like a Timberland ad and there’s a storyline about a hot girl picked up by the group’s playboy, whose parting words to her vacation flame provide a rare moment of poignancy, but overall the script remains light, malnourished. Also contributing to the film’s lack of weight is the less-than-ideal editing, which is prone to chop off scenes before they have a chance to play out and breathe. Among others, the pivotal scene of Hannes’ last romantic night with his girlfriend is hurt by the inadequately timed cut.
Superstar Florian David Fitz won a Best Actor Lola for playing a young man with Tourette’s syndrome in Vincent will Meer (Vincent Wants to Sea). His performance here as Hannes is not nearly as physical, rarely stressing the outward symptoms of an ALS patient. This in itself is not a problem, but, as emaciated as he looks, he never seems like someone who’s about to die or is ready to die. So when he declares “My life ends tomorrow!” in an impassioned speech later in the film, it’s just not as reverberating as one would hope. Otherwise soulful and engaging, it appears he’s simply been given too little material to develop a full-fledged character. Of the ensemble cast, Jürgen Vogel is best in show, playing the class clown / eternal bachelor always game for a fling, but he can probably do this part in his sleep.
When all is said and done, Hin und weg (Tour De Force) is a well-meaning movie enjoyable for its pristine imagery, bookstore music and affecting idea. Director Christian Zübert might not be the most compelling storyteller, but he knows how to do the picturesque landscape of the European heartland justice. The way he shoots the ending – lucid, straightforward, dignified – also shows a respectful grasp of the subject matter, if not a particularly stirring one.
Having said all that, judging by the loud sniffle-fest the screening this reviewer attended ended up becoming, the general public might be much more susceptible to seeing innocent, attractive people dying on screen and that last assessment would be a miscalculation on the author’s part.