Dir/scr: Hannes Stoehr. Germany, 2008. 105 mins.
Though it claims to be a universal portrait of a modern artist, Hannes Stoehr’s Berlin Calling is largely addressed to techno fans and clubbers who can appreciate the genius of star German DJ Paul Kalkbrenner, who not only plays the lead but supplies practically the film’s entire musical soundtrack.
Playing a tortured artist who is a voracious consumer of drugs, is regularly hospitalised for overdoses, loses his girlfriend and is dumped by his record company but yet still manages to create a new album of outstanding genius, Kalkbrenner carries the entire film on his shoulders - with remarkable aplomb, if not brilliance. Given his international reputation as a performing artist, he may also provide the film with most of its audience. And there is surely a nice crowd waiting for this type of film at the theatre, not to mention late-night cable TV slots.
Not quite the cautionary tale it might have been, Stoehr’s film can’t really make up its mind what the cautionary message actually is. In the world depicted here, creative juices feed on drugs and nobody objects to them as long as the after-effects don’t cross over an unspecified line. The only villain in the film is the drug dealer, who doesn’t abide by these rules.
DJ Ickarus (Kalkbrenner) the younger son of a Protestant priest whose mother died when he was a child, mixes his tracks live in front of large screaming audiences of fans. An adult who hasn’t quite matured, he’s in his thirties and living with his girlfriend, Mathilde (Lengyel) as the film starts out. She doubles up as his business manager and occasional babysitter, whose job it is to keep him out of trouble.
While working on a long-awaited new set of tracks, Ickarus indulges heavily in the merchandise of his favourite drug dealer Erbse (Rolf Peter Kahl), which ultimately puts him out of commission and into a psychiatric clinic. There he comes into direct conflict with Dr. Petra Paul (Harfouch), whose unsympathetic treatment, combined with Mathilde’s decision to go back to her former lover, Corinna (Walton), leads to a series of explosive eruptions, ending with Ickarus being kicked out of the clinic, losing his recording contract and facing total bankruptcy.
Relatively tame for the kind of material it tackles, Berlin Calling is sprinkled with modest quantities of music and a number of live performances that are sadly lacking in either originality or impact. Stoehr’s film predictably follows all the classic patterns of the genre, offering no new insights nor opening new doors of perception. A certain obsession with Christianity is not altogether explained. Kalkbrenner, familiar with all the secrets of the profession and performing his own music, feels secure, comfortable and credible in his part. Rita Lengyel, meanwhile, seems adequately concerned with his fate while the stiffness of veteran Corinna Harfouch playing the doctor suggests an ambivalence that doesn’t quite fit the image of an angel of mercy. All technical credits are satisfactory, with some pretty fancy light displays during Ickarus’ live concerts.
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Rolf Peter Kahl