A quaint coming-of-age story sits awkwardly alongside a dysfunctional family comedy in “Hounds,” a German low-budgeter that offers plenty to chew on but lacks genuine bite. With a pack of troubled but inoffensive characters, yarn provides comfortable companions for pic’s compact running time, but never really achieves the momentum it’s hunting. Some fest play is assured, but this effort will sit most comfortably on Euro tube.
Despite having lived in the East German countryside for several months, teenager Lars (Constantin von Jascheroff) and his dad, Henrik (Josef Hader), are still treated as unwelcome guests. Henrik is building a “marriage barn,” a proposed bed-and-breakfast for newlywed Berliners.
Leaving Dad to his construction, Lars decides to go to Berlin to spend Christmas with his mother. While at the train station, however, Lars sees winsome mute girl Marie (Luise Berndt) being hassled by some local boys and unsuccessfully tries to protect her, missing his train in the process. Marie offers to look after Lars instead and takes him back to the local diner where she lives with her taciturn father, Reschke (Sven Lehmann). Realizing that the pair are on the cusp of a teen romance, Reschke immediately tries to put the kibosh on the affair.
Lars soon returns home to find his surprised and embarrassed dad romancing his earnest Aunt Jana (Judith Engel), creating some discomfort between father and son. Later, the dynamics are further complicated by the Christmas Eve arrival of Lars’ mom, Brigitte (Ulrike Krumbiegel), and her new beau. (Press notes state the teen romance developed as pic’s major focus during the shoot.)
Decision to concentrate on the charming young thesp von Jascheroff seems to have been the right one. The Christmas Eve comedy of errors, dominated by the adult characters to the exclusion of Lars and the underdeveloped Marie, feels like something from a different, less interesting film.
Workmanlike helming by Ann-Kristin Reyels is lifted by some sublime moments. As a student graduation project, this feature bow makes her a helming talent to watch. Thesps deliver realistic, and generally amicable perfs, making this a comfortable time-passer.
Downbeat finale, which is beautifully expressed cinematically, seems a tad superfluous in narrative terms. Lensing is grainy and some scenes look as though they may have been shot on HD. All other tech credits are solid.
Title refers to a sequence where the young lovers wear dog masks while dancing on a frozen lake.