(German and French dialogue)

(German and French dialogue)

An update on a ’30s kiddie yarn, “Annaluise and Anton” reps a pleasant yet decidedly less ambitious effort from writer-director Caroline Link, whose “Beyond Silence” made it to the foreign-language Oscar’s final five in 1997. Appealing acting and a clear-eyed approach to the challenges of contempo childhood keep pic chugging along nicely for about an hour, at which point it quickly devolves into a Teutonic twist on “Home Alone” and collapses under the weight of some ill-advised slapstick. A fine fit for moppetfests and territories where this sort of thing is appreciated, item will find more playmates on video than anywhere else.

Production was timed to coincide with the centennial of pacifist German scribe Erich Kaestner, who also wrote the oft-filmed classic “Emil and the Detectives,” as well as the book that later mutated into “The Parent Trap.” Current story was first turned into a movie in 1953, by director Thomas Engel.

Annaluise “Puenktchen” Pogge (Elea Geissler) and her pal Anton Gast (Max Felder) are typical Munich 10-year-olds, fast friends who cheerfully help each other out. But Puenktchen’s parents, Bettina (Juliane Koehler) and Richard (August Zirner), are rich doctors, whereas Anton’s sickly mother, Elli (Meret Becker), works only intermittently at the local cafe.

Needing money for his mom’s therapeutic trip to the ocean, Anton impulsively steals a gold cigarette lighter from the Pogge household and triggers a showdown between the two mothers, causing both Puenktchen and Richard to doubt Bettina’s commitment to her daughter.

Then Anton decides to hijack the cafe van and drive to Berlin in search of his father, while Puenktchen launches a moneymaking scheme of her own by moonlighting as a busker in the Munich subway. An intertwining subplot involving an affair between Puenktchen’s French au pair, Laurence (Sylvie Testud), and shifty cafe worker Carlos (Benno Fuermann) leads to a showdown when the latter attempts a home invasion, only to be thwarted by the Pogges’ spunky maid.

Spiced with a few musical interludes, genial kidpic shares with “Beyond Silence” a fascination with intertwining family dynamics, although as befits the story’s focus the mood here is much lighter and a good deal more uneven in the final act. Geissler and Felder are bubbly fun as the diminutive duo, with Koehler (“Aimee & Jaguar”) fine as Puenktchen’s conflicted mother. Zirner and Becker (both in the 1994 Belgian drama “La promesse”) round out the parental presence, with fine support from Testud (star of “Beyond Silence”) as Laurence. Tech credits are unobtrusively glossy, with Link’s editor and composer returning from the previous pic.

Annaluise and Anton

(KIDPIC -- GERMAN)

Production

A Buena Vista Intl. release (in Germany) of a Bavaria Film production, in association with Lunaris Film & TV, ZDF. (International sales: Bavaria Intl., Geiselgasteig) Produced by Peter Zenk, Uschi Reich. Directed, written by Caroline Link, based on the book by Erich Kaestner.

Crew

Camera (color), Torsten Breuer; editor, Patricia Rommel; music, Niki Reiser; production designer, Susan Bieling; costumes, Katharina von Martius; sound (Dolby Digital), Thomas Bastian, Michael Kranz. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (noncompeting), Feb. 21, 1999. Running time: 110 MIN.

With

With: Elea Geissler, Max Felder, Juliane Koehler, August Zirner, Meret Becker , Sylvie Testud, Gudrun Okras, Benno Fuermann, Michael Hanemann, Helmfried von Luettichau.
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