Philly Fest Report: Off Beat

Todd Brown, Founder and Editor

I had originally hoped to be screening Woman is the Future of Man right now but the festival's tight schedule and the fact that Woman plays on the opposite end of town as Off Beat - which I just saw - and Oldboy - which I'll be seeing next - pretty much ruled that out, so I'm taking advantage of the bit of time off to jump online in the library next to the lovely Bridge Theater where I've been for most of my screenings ... this place is absolutely one of the best movie theaters I've ever been in. Reclining leather seats, stadium seating, fantastic screens and audio, wood panelled throughout and a swanky bar upstairs ... what more do you need, really?

Now, when I first was digging up trailers for films at the festival Off Beat was a marginal choice for viewing. The German flick from a first time director tells the story of a young paramedic named Paul who is haunted by recurrent nightmares of the car accident that killed his parents when he was still just a boy. The trailer had style, yeah, but something left me with the feeling that this was one of those cases where the trailer would be better than the actual film. Wrong. Absolutely completely wrong. I've seen two debut films so far and writer-director Hendrick Holzemann is every bit as impressive as UNO's Aksel Hennie. If these two young talents are any indication of what's out there then the future of European film is in very, very good hands ...

In Paul - known to his friends and coworkers as Crash - Holzemann has created an astounding lead character. He is entertaining and instantly likeable but also very complex and troubled. Plagued by visions of his dead parents Paul has become a paramedic in his adult life to attempt to do what he could not as a child: save people. The problem? As one 911 caller points out the paramedics always arrive too late and are left to clean up vomit and blood without being able to offer much more. Paul continues on in the face of this constant failure, always hoping to be able to save someone, but emotionally he has collapsed in on himself, refusing to allow anyone to come close. That is until he meets November, a young pregnant woman who Paul meets while tending to her overdosed boyfriend. She has a remarkable likeness to an unknown figure who appears in his recurrent dreams, a fact that Paul takes as some sort of omen.

Holzemann succeeds on so many levels that it is easy to lose count. His accounting of the emergency services world and the toll the work takes on those involved rings absolutely true. His characters are all fully fleshed out and beautifully performed. His portrayal of German youth culture, a culture gripped in terminal boredom, feels spot on. And, yes, the film has style to spare - beautifully shot, tightly edited to a pulsating score, punctuated with sudden bursts of blood, and able to turn moods on a dime.

I'm still processing through all the issues the film raises - always a good sign when a film leaves something to chew on - but Holzemann has clearly created a important piece of film here, looking into concepts of mortality, the value of life, hope and despair. The notes invite comparisons to Tykwer and those are definitely valid: this is a new school of German film, one looking at the present and future rather than being consumed by the past. Just fantastic stuff all 'round ...

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