A come-on title, an attractive and talented cast, plus bright widescreen packaging can't disguise the basically thin material of "Naked," a Germanized "Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?" with an extra couple thrown in.

A come-on title, an attractive and talented cast, plus bright widescreen packaging can’t disguise the basically thin material of “Naked,” a Germanized “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?” with an extra couple thrown in. Bitchy dialogue and the promise of the title should launch the film in most territories, but word of mouth isn’t likely to be favorable, and critical support will probably be found wanting. Ancillary will help.

Pic’s genesis is Dorrie’s play, which was given the less alluring title of “Happy.” It’s a very theatrical piece, divided into three basic acts in which three very modern German couples work out their problems concerning marriage, fidelity, happiness, sex and the standard of living. But the material lacks wit, and the conventional resolution will send many viewers home gnashing their teeth in frustration.

Charlotte (Nina Hoss) and Dylan (Mehmet Kurtulus) are nouveau riche; Dylan has made millions on stock market speculation, and the beautiful couple live in a sumptuously decorated apartment. On the evening in question, they’ve invited two other couples, long-time friends, to dinner.

Emilia (Heike Makatsch) and Felix (Benno Furmann) recently split up after several years together. Both are still bitter, but they’ve agreed to go to the dinner as a couple. The conversation gets around to new sex partners; Felix reveals he had a brief fling with a total stranger he met in a bread shop, while Emilia admits she has had sex with Dylan. It’s not a good start to the evening.

Meanwhile, Annette (Alexandra Maria Lara) and Boris (Jurgen Vogel) seem to be the most contented with their relationship; in fact, Boris has an engagement ring and is waiting to pop the question.

Before their guests arrive, Charlotte and Dylan have a violent quarrel over the preparation of the meal, ending with Charlotte impulsively throwing the meat away. Dylan is forced to call a Chinese restaurant and order a couple of ducks.

Still, the evening starts well enough, though it’s clear Felix is bitter about a great many things. When the conversation gets around to that old stand-by–What was the happiest moment in your life?–it’s significant that nobody comes up with a memory involving their partner.

As the evening proceeds, and the wine flows, the conversation gets around to sex. Felix makes a bet that, if blindfolded, his friends will not be able to recognize the bodies of their partners. Charlotte, Dylan, Annette and Boris strip naked and indulge in a touchy-feely session, which turns on the other two, at least for a while. But the resolution of the wager, as well as of the film itself, both disappoints and frustrates.

Though for a while it seems Dorrie has some provocative things to say about contemporary relationships, it gradually becomes obvious that there’s nothing much going on here. The bitchiness of the women toward one another, and the testosterone-influenced rivalry of the men provides no insights.

Pic is watchable, though, thanks to the excellent cast. Makatsch is quite touching as the wounded Emilia, who is trying to cope with life without Felix, while Lara and Hoss are lovely as the women for whom life seems, on the surface, to be more stable. The men have less interesting characters to play, but acquit themselves with charm.

Production values are classy indeed, with lenser Frank Griebe making the best use of the Scope screen to place his characters in Bernd Lepel’s cleverly designed sets. In fact, just about everything about “Naked” succeeds, except for the basic material on which the entire, rather shaky, edifice is founded.

Naked

Germany

Production

A Constantin Film-Fanes Film presentation of a Bernd Eichinger production, in co-production with Megaherz. (International sales: Telepool-Cinepool, Munich.) Produced by Norbert Preuss. Co-produced by Franz X. Gernstl, Fidelis Mager. Directed, written by Doris Dorrie, based on her play, "Happy."

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Frank Griebe; editors, Inez Regnier, Frank Muller; music, Liquid Loop, Ivan Hajek; production designer, Bernd Lepel; costume designer, Yoshio Yabara; sound (Dolby digital), Chris Price; casting, Klaus Spinnler. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing, Venezia 59), Sept. 2, 2002. Running time: 100 MIN.

With

Emilia - Heike Makatsch Felix - Benno Furmann Annette - Alexandra Maria Lara Boris - Jurgen Vogel Charlotte - Nina Hoss Dylan - Mehmet Kurtulus
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