Along-separated German mother and her half-Turkish daughter are reconciled in splendidly serene dramatic comedy “Red & Blue.” As with much of his best work, newest from vet Berlin-based auteur Rudolf Thome — whose “Paradiso — Seven Days With Seven Women” copped Berlin’s Silver Bear in 2000 — unfolds with all the wit, whimsy, pacing and shrewdness of Eric Rohmer, Bill Forsyth and the more mature Woody Allen. From fests to arthouses to ancillary, “Red & Blue” should deliver good green.
On a train headed to Berlin, businessman Gregor (Karl Kranzkowski) entertains random seatmates, including strangers Ilke (Serpil Turhan) and Frank (Bastian Trost), with digital imagery via his state-of-the-art camera and laptop rig. However, his obvious advances to the Turkish Ilke, couched in offers of assistance, are ignored.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the city, middle-aged Barbara (Hannelore Elsner, star of Oskar Roehler’s celebrated “No Place to Go”), kisses her children Sarah and Sebastian (sibs Joya and Nicolai Thome, helmer’s kids) goodbye and drives to her rundown summer cottage. She proceeds to burn furniture and papers in the backyard while slugging back red wine. Later, her vivacious Jewish pal Samantha (Adriana Altaras) joins her and the two women commiserate.
As often happens in the Thome universe, these seemingly disparate characters have precious few degrees of separation. Barbara and Gregor are the Baerenklaus, a successful professional couple in the throes of serious ennui in their relationship. Ilke is Barbara’s twentysomething daughter from a previous marriage to a successful Turkish rug merchant.
Newly arrived in Berlin with a metal case full of neatly stacked large-denomination banknotes, Ilke’s determined to find the mother she’s never known. She hires private detective and staunch family friend Samuel Eisenstein (longtime Thome collaborator Hanns Zischler, seen most recently in Caroline Link’s Oscar-winning “Nowhere in Africa”) to secure her a flat and manage all that money.
In short order Eisenstein’s found Barbara, Ilke’s phoned her, and the two meet. Recriminations and regrets soon turn to relief, and a strong bond forms. The small joys embedded in Thome’s films spring from a refreshing bluntness and unexpected playfulness. “Maybe it’s God’s way of punishing you for not taking care of me,” Ilke says to Barbara with seemingly no rancor after the latter falls and breaks her ankle shortly after they meet.
When Samuel turns out to be the very same faithful childhood playmate Barbara has described earlier to her friend Samantha, an effect that would play as cringingly contrived in most other contexts seems more like divine intervention here. Even the genre elements — Gregor’s initial flirting, the case full of money, the private eye — lead nowhere, suggesting that Thome enjoys subverting auds’ expectations while exploring variations on his career-long themes: technology versus feelings, racial diversity in contempo Germany, the reclaiming of family, and the wry mysteries of life. “Red & Blue” is more about how emotional connections cut through societal clutter than the tensions inherent in the clutter itself.
In a part written just for her, Elsner is typically fearless in her emotions, vividly painting a decent woman in legitimate turmoil. Turhan confirms the grace and charisma first on display in Thomas Arslan’s sublime “A Perfect Day.” Zischler projects just the right balance of menace and comfort, while the rest of the cast is pitch-perfect in support.
Tech credits are sleek, highlighted by assured camerawork from d.p. Michael Wiesweg (“A Perfect Day”) and a tasteful score from Wolfgang Boehmer. Pic, first of a planned trilogy, will be followed by “Woman Driving, Man Sleeping” — also starring Elsner, yet in a different role — which helmer expects to finish by mid- to late August; third installment will follow thereafter. Title refers to Barbara’s favorite colors for flowers, which Ilke has remembered her entire life (subtitle, “A Journey Through Time — The Past,” hints at triptych’s grander theme). German distrib Academy Films will open pic domestically in early winter.