Various setbacks lead toward a new beginning for the title character in “Karger,” a low-key, working-class slice-of-lifer set in eastern Germany. A closely observed tale of a man’s difficulty in contending with divorce, job redundancy and his father’s failing health, pic reps a generation of small-town thirtysomethings who expected to learn a trade, stay married and raise children — and can’t quite comprehend or cope with breaks in the cycle. Writer-director Elke Hauck’s feature debut, which recalls movies by Ken Loach and the Dardenne brothers, is prime fare for fests and Eurocasters but too small for theatrical export.
Burly steelworker Karger (Jens Klemig) and wife Sabine (Marion Kuhnt) have been separated for nearly a year, but he hasn’t told parents or pals. Impassive and inarticulate, he seems to hope that by ignoring the situation it will somehow disappear.
At a high school reunion, Karger learns many of his contemporaries are single parents and remain in the area of Saxony where they grew up. During a one-night stand with an attractive classmate, he’s asked, “You’ve never left here?” He replies, “Why should I?”
In Karger’s traditional world, women are more important for sex than partnership. What little appropriate tenderness he can summon goes to his young daughter, Clara. He starts sleeping with harsh-looking barmaid Ulrike (Anja Dietrich), who’s raising two sons on her own, but is incapable of giving her emotional intimacy.
When a foreign company acquires the foundry where he works, Karger and many others are made redundant. Without prospects in the area, Karger is finally forced to leave town.
Helmer Hauke enhances the Everyman sense of Karger’s experience by never mentioning his first name. The lyrics of blue-collar rock band Freygang (which provides the score and appear in opening concert) serve as a counterpoint to the action.
Performers, cast for their physique and familiarity with the situation, are nonprofessionals from the Riesa area who speak the local dialect. Production design emphasizes the dreary sameness of the domestic interiors Karger inhabits.