Dir/scr: Ulrike von Ribbeck. Ger. 2007. 91mins.
Dangerously tottering on the line between parody and ridicule, this debut feature by a short film director whose early efforts got into both Berlin and Cannes is either a send-up of the coming-of-age movie, back in fashion in Germany of late, or an honest coming-of-age attempt that is just not very good.
Wrapped up in pink and accompanied by puppy love pop tunes, Sooner Or Later should attract initially under-14 audiences, but could also draw the attention of more discerning viewers - if they can be convinced that there is more to what they get than what they see. Either way, competing at a prestigious international event such as Locarno - where Sooner Or Later premiered - is too heavy a challenge for a film that even its supporters will find it hard to define as anything but slight. With ZDF's Kleine Fernsehspiel scheme behind it, its TV future is secure, and matinee programming may get it into a youth-oriented theatrical niche.
Nora (Klamroth) a 14-year-old gawky introvert blonde with a constant blush on her cheeks, goes through that most confusing period of adolescence when she is no longer a child but not quite a woman, her body an asset but also an embarrassment and her appetite for romance much larger than anything she dares chew.
Her parents, Uwe (Lohmeyer) and Anette (Lehmann) are far too busy with themselves to pay attention to her problems. When Thomas (Schrott), a faded daytime TV actor moves next door, it is only natural she will fall for his pale glamour in a big way, ignoring any such minor obstacles as the man having a wife and a child.
Taken at face value, Sooner Or Later is an extreme collection of platitudes, riddled with cliches that top each other with disconcerting alacrity. Nora takes every wrong step in the book, first clumsily trying to draw the new neighbour to her, then retreating in panic when he takes her seriously, before finally being profoundly hurt when she discovers that he had an affair with her mother many years ago. In an act of sheer cruelty, the script doesn't allow her even one friend of her own age to share her anxieties with.
Meanwhile her parents scream insults at each other every once in a while, incompetent dad is being taken for a ride by his business partner and silly mum goes back to university to get a degree and finds herself instantly infatuated with a gangly, charmless student half her age.
As for Thomas, he turns out to be a pitiful wimp, striking macho poses to impress his underage admirer at the beach while showing off photos of his mountain hike in Pakistan.
There's also mum's younger sister, painting her toes, parading around in her bra and being not only unemployed but also useless. Add the dominants pinks running through the film, from the credits onwards, dream sequences with feathers and white ribbons floating around in slow motion and the syrupy soundtrack and it's impossible not to wonder how this film got ever accepted by a self-respecting festival.
But then it is impossible to discard the notion that von Ribbeck intended to parody the genre, with such emphasis on the adolescent in love, the suburban wives sweetly exchanging pleasantries while sticking pins in each other's back and the self-indulgence of summer.
Granted, the script lacks the necessary invention to sustain such an approach for the full length of a feature, but at least this would indicate a talent for irony worth following in future. If this is the case, then the bonbon haze provided by cinematographer Sonja Rom is just right for the images, the cloying music is a necessity and the adult performers are adequately preposterous, close but not quite the caricatures they would deserve to become in a farce.
As Nora, Lola Klamroth (the real life daughter of Lohmeyer, who plays her father), is the only one who takes the whole thing in earnest, perfectly typecast for her part as the awkward and shy teen who is longing but fearful, capable of taking the first initiative but never follow it through.
She fits in, whether the film is for real (which hopefully it isn't) or in jest, and becomes the solid core around which all the rest have to evolve. Whether audiences will laugh with this film, or at it, remains a open question, probably dependent not only on the eye of the beholder but their age as well.
ZDF/Das Kleine Fernsehspiel
The Match Factory