Review: ‘Oktoberfest’

Not much of a tourism incentive, pic is a solid large-cast criss-crosser in which characters and their personal problems collide during one long booze-soaked day at the titular annual Munich event. Solid perfs and the setting's inherent entertainment value give a boost to what's at heart a familiar grab bag of little human dramas.

Not much of a tourism incentive, “Oktoberfest” is a solid large-cast criss-crosser in which characters and their personal problems collide during one long booze-soaked day at the titular annual Munich event. Solid performances and the setting’s inherent entertainment value give a boost to what’s at heart a familiar, seldom surprising grab bag of little human dramas that sometimes lays on the pathos a bit thick. That lack of originality will inhibit theatrical sales outside German-speaking territories, but this polished feature debut for writer-helmer Johannes Brunner reps a strong small-screen pickup.

It’s closing day for the year’s festivities, and veteran beer-hall waitress Birgit (top-billed Barbara Rudnik) has begun to think her 10-year marriage to oompah-bandleader Max (August Schmolzer) is kaput, a sentiment he does not share (though fidelity has never been his strong suit).

Hard decisions are also being made by Maria (Hildegard Kuhlenberg), who learns she’s losing ownership of the haunted-house ride that has supported her, an infirm father (Gunnar Moller), a retarded son (Arndt Schwering-Sohnrey) and restless teenage daughter. Latter (Anna Bruggemann) becomes entwined over the day’s course with a mysterious young man (Christoph Luser) who’s able-bodied yet uses a wheelchair.

Failing to have much family fun at the festival are professor Richard (Peter Lohmeyer) and his two children. Teen Jenny (Samira Bedewitz) is still furious at him for divorcing mom-and for apparently dating students her own age. Their arguments drive away 10-year-old Marc (Rick Nadler), who is promptly lost in the crowd.

Meanwhile, copious amounts of potent brew wreak their effect on various couples, making things awkward between Japanese newlyweds (Gen Seto, Nahoko Fort-Nishigami) while creating some fleeting hookups between two cute German girls and three strapping Italian lads.

While the script resists too much contrivance, there’s nonetheless a slightly forced and formulaic quality to the pic’s world-weary air, its conflict resolutions and life-lessons. But that’s not so much the fault of “Oktoberfest” as it is a result of there having simply been too many such exercises in the “Magnolia”/”Short Cuts” vein of late, lending those without particular style or content fillips a sense of creative deja vu. Taken simply as well-turned storytelling, these nearly two hours are quite engrossing and entertaining enough.

Multinational cast of both familiar and new faces is fine, providing moments of romantic charm and comedy to offset the more gloomy subplots.

Tech and design aspects are first-rate, and shooting at an actual Oktoberfest is a big plus — even though passers-by sometimes can’t be stopped from ogling the camera.

Oktoberfest

Germany

Production

A Movie Net presentation of a Hager Moss production in association with Arte and Bayerischer Rundfunk. Produced by Kirsten Hager, Eric Moss, Marcus Welke. Directed, written by Johannes Brunner.

Crew

Camera (color), Thomas Riedelsheimer; editor, Horst Reiter; music, Rainer Kuhn, Raimund Ritz; production designer, Christian Kettler; costume designer, Natascha Curtius-Noss; sound (Dolby Digital), Max-Thomas Meindl; assistant directors, Anke Koster, Michael Twinem; casting, An Dorthe Braker. Reviewed at Berlin & Beyond Film Festival, San Francisco, Jan. 16, 2006. Running time: 104 MIN.

With

Barbara Rudnik, Peter Lohmeyer, August Schmolzer, Gunnar Moller, Marco Basile, Samira Bedewitz, Rudolf Waldemar Brem, Anna Bruggemann, Julia Dietze, Gundi Ellert, Nahoko Fort-Nishigami, Hildegard Kuhlenberg, Suzanne Landsfried, Christoph Luser, Lukas Miko, Rick Nadler, Philippine Pachl, Olivia Pascal, Antonio Prisco, Alessandro Riceci, Arndt Schwering-Sohnrey, Gen Seto, Oliver Stritzel, Mina Tander.
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