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Bliss

Dir/scr: Doris Dorrie. Germany. 2012. 112mins

Understatement is the one sin Doris Dorrie’s new film ever indulges in. Working under the assumption that audiences are too feeble minded to be trusted, every single item in this maudlin melodrama is underlined, repeated and counterpointed to death, just to make sure no one misses it. Unintentionally courting the slasher comedy genre, it pretends to discuss no less a theme than the essence of happiness, but its version of “love almost unto death” never goes beyond the depth of a tabloid report of a current event.  

Clichés creep in here at the lightest excuse.

Bliss (Gluck) is adapted from a short story by criminal lawyer Ferdinand von Schirach, based on a case he defended in court, and Dorrie’s script has a refugee working Berlin’s sidewalks stumble by accident on a German homeless dropout. The chance meeting turns into uneasy romance that, once it blossoms (flowers have a lot to do in this picture), should heal their respective wounds, whose nature they jealously keep a secret from each other.

The audience, however, is not that lucky and finds out in the opening sequence what it is exactly that has forced Irina (rising young Italian star Alba Rohrwacher) to sell her body for a living. Born in a Macedonian village, where life was nothing less than paradise until war erupted in the Balkans, her parents were murdered by enemy soldiers. She was raped and next thing you know she’s a hooker selling tricks on the streets of Berlin, alone, illegal, catatonic, sticking pins into her legs to deaden frequent anxiety attacks.

The case of Kalle (Vinzenz Kiefer) is not that clear. He begs money on the street, sleeps at night on park benches with his beloved dog Byron, and rebels against all authority. Why would he behave like that is not quite clear, though it is implied his parents are to blame. Both are oh, so sweet but so damaged by life, which treated them so badly.

Thanks to Byron they get to know each other, then Byron is eased off to happier hunting grounds, Irina tries to tame Kalle, Kalle tries to tame Irina, and from this point on, even if events did unfold in real life just like the film tells it, the plot looks painfully manipulated and contrived.

Hiccupping its way forward, it shows the couple moving in together and they seem to approach, in their humble way, that delirious state of bliss referred to as “happiness” but then, just as she is servicing an old, overweight client, he literally dies on her.

In comes Kalle, chivalrous knight in blue jeans and t-shirt, who picks up the freshly acquired electric knife and sets to work at dissimulating what he erroneously believes to be a crime committed by his beloved. The ensuing blood bath in all its gory details, though meant to be taken seriously, will most likely draw loud guffaws which have very little to do with the film’s admirable intentions.

Clichés creep in here at the lightest excuse, whether it is a field of red poppies, innocent kids in a playground, little lambs alive and as embroidered images, and there’s plenty more where this comes from. It is all shot in bright, vivid colors, and whenever possible, in detailed close-ups, for the distress of life’s cruelties and pain have to be observed at close range.

Rohrwacher seems miserable even when she is sort of happy, Kiefer looks like a professional hustler out of his wits and the affair between them never catches fire. The case itself no doubt exceptional, the lenience of the German justice even more exceptional, but to put flesh and bones – no pun intended – on a news item and give the story more than one layer, there is a lot more work to be done.

Production company: Constantin Film

International sales: Beta Cinema GmbH, www.betacinema.com

Producer: Oliver Berben

Executive producer: Martin Moszkowicz

Cinematography: Hanno Lentz

Editor: Inez Regnier, Frank Muller

Production designer: Bernd Lepel

Main cast: Alba Rohrwacher, Viinzenz Kieffer, Mathias Brandt

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