Dir: Detlev Buck. Ger.2005. 98mins.
Mixing references from early Ken Loach to La Haine to Mean Streets, Tough Enough is German actor-director DetlevBuck's hard man act after a string of dry, slightly surreal comedies - thelast, Bundle Of Joy, dating back to2000.
It's a powerful and oftenviolent film, uncritically but movingly wrapped up in the emotional turmoil ofits main character, a 15-year-old boy who has moved just from the nicemiddle-class Berlin suburb of Zehlendorf tomulti-ethnic Neukoln in the north-east of the city -an area which, as any Berliner will tell you, is about as far as you can get onthe wrong side of the tracks.
Though uneven, Tough Enough has some nice moments of darkcomedy, and the driving pace and attitude to carry off itsdescent-into-the-abyss act through to the bitter end. It's just a shame thatthe cop-out almost-happy ending is not quite bitter enough.
It should play well inGerman-speaking territories, but though its gritty body-blow impact speaks acommon language, it may not be a fresh enough take on the subject to attractmuch action elsewhere.
With his full lips and angelicfeatures, young actor David Kross is well cast asMichael Polischka: as soon as he steps into the classroomof his new school, where teaching is more about damage limitation thanimparting knowledge, we can see that he's not going to have an easy time of it.
His mother (Elvers-Elbertzhagen) pins her hopes on a succession ofjerks and never learns from her mistakes; she leaves her son to his owndevices, and he is soon chugging beer with half-brothers Crille(Taci) and Matze (Mueller).
An easy target, Michael ispicked on by a vicious gang, led by Turkish hard-boy Erol(Ozdemir), and subjected to a couple of brutalbeatings; salvation, of sorts, comes when local drug lord Hamal(Emre) offers him protection - in return for actingas a courier.
The grey and ugly urban dreck of Michael's new homepatch is played up by using a washed-out colour palette of dirty pastels, andthe film strikes a moody attitude with repeated close-ups on faces and detailsof dress or gesture, thrown into relief by cinematographer KoljaBrandt's choice of a shallow depth of field.
Co-writers Zoran Drvenkar and Gregor Tessnow (on whose novelthe script is based) have a soft spot for garishly-lit rococo caricatures - apony-tailed coke fiend, a crude and corpulent money-launderer. These are mildlyamusing, but it might have been nice if they had spent more time developingsome of their main characters - like Erol, who isshown pushing a pram in one scene and laying into Michael in another, with littleto explain how these two sides of his personality are connected.
Indie rock and punk by the like of Eels and the Gang of Fouradd to the film's youth appeal, though the graphic violence may cause censorsto limit it to the top end of the teen market.
Boje Buck Filmproduktion
The Match Factory
Kida Khodr Ramadan
Kai Michael Mueller
Jan Henrik Stahlberg