A very subtle dramedy of manners and emotions, played out during a vacation on Germany’s Baltic coast, “Summer ’04” more than confirms the promise of young Teuton helmer Stefan Krohmer, in partnership with writer Daniel Nocke, from their debut feature, “They’ve Got Knut,” three years ago. With a tip-top cast, headed by well-known actress Martina Gedeck in one of her most nuanced perfs to date, this could sail into some specialized distribution in Euro territories, given critical support. Tube sales look even healthier.
“Knut” viewed a generation of not-so-young former revolutionaries in the ’80s whose principles (or lack of them) were compromised by their hormones and self-interest. “Summer” shares the same mix of low-key comedy and uncomfortable situations as a determinedly liberal contempo family has its certainties shaken when a pubescent beauty joins them at their vacation retreat.
Miriam (Gedeck), 40, and her political researcher husband, Andre (Peter Davor), 38, are joined on their holiday by their 15-year-old son, Niels (Lucas Kotaranin), and his young girlfriend, Livia (Svea Lohde). Sexually precocious Livia is only 12 going on 13, but behaves as if she’s older; Miriam is uneasy about the relationship with Niels, though Andre reckons it’s OK.
Into their midst arrives Bill (Robert Seeliger), with whom Livia has spent a day sailing on Andre’s boat sans Niels. An eager-to-please American-German, Bill has just come back to Germany following his father’s death in a car-racing accident.
Miriam suspects there’s something afoot between him and Livia, and when the pair spends another day sailing alone and Livia doesn’t return at night, Miriam drives out to Bill’s place to find what’s up.
Nocke’s gift for dialogue in which there’s way more going on than generally breaks the surface is evident in the beautifully played scene between Miriam and Bill where she tries to penetrate his friendly, apparently sincere front.
He claims that, after spending time Stateside (“just money and stupidity”), he was bowled over by Livia’s class and maturity but has no sexual intentions. However, as the pair talk, something else is happening: Miriam’s hostility is turning into physical attraction.
The next day Miriam ends sailing with Bill. When she visits his house a couple days later, they end up having sex. Downstairs, they find Livia calmly waiting.
Subsequent emotional tangles are played out with a wry sense of the protags’ self-inflicted problems. A sudden tragedy throws all the relationships back into the blender, and a neat coda, set some time later, wraps things up with a surprising revelation.
Gedeck (“Elementary Particles”) is a comic-romantic actress who simply gets better as she gets older, and is aces here as a woman whose liberal principles are challenged and then scuppered by a passion that hits her just when she’s beginning to settle into middle age. In the early going especially, she’s nicely partnered with Davor, whose laidback playing of Andre conceals a sharp observation that finally lets him down.
Seeliger manages to keep Bill’s character balanced at a point where the audience is never quite sure of his sincerity. Lohde is fine as the forthright twixter who’s unencumbered by her elders’ emotional conflicts.
Tech package is thoroughly pro, capturing the summertime atmosphere of the Schlei resort and, even during the yachting sequences, always remaining at the service of the thesps.