Review: ‘Nothing But Ghosts’

"Nothing but Ghosts" is a five-way cross-cutter following rootless types.

After his Berlin relationships ensembler “We,” writer-director Martin Gypkens spreads his net even wider — courtesy of stories in Judith Hermann’s trendy 2003 collection — in “Nothing but Ghosts,” a five-way cross-cutter following rootless types in Germany, Iceland, Italy, the U.S. and Jamaica. Varying levels of interest in the self-absorbed characters are mitigated by constant changes of location as pic moves among the yarns, each with its distinct visual signature. Result is a mobile two hours with little downtime but a general lack of dramatic resolution. Largely a fest item, pic could benefit locally from name cast and book’s rep.

Most affecting story is actually the simplest, focusing on Marion (Fritzi Haberlandt), a lonely, uptight backpacker celebrating her 30th birthday in Venice, who’s burdened with a visit by her parents (Walter Kreye, Christine Schorn). As the plain-Jane prey to some funny sexual fantasies as well as the overbearing attentions of her parents, Haberlandt is aces, and brings real pathos to her story’s conclusion.

Least interesting, and bathed in an orange-y tropical wash, is the Jamaica yarn, in which two me-me friends, Christine (Brigitte Hobmeier) and Nora (Jessica Schwarz), stay at the home of resident Kaspar (Janek Rieke) as a hurricane heads their way. Nora, Kaspar’s onetime partner, says it’s over between them, while Christine and a hunky black workman consider a one-night stand.

Most standard story, with the closest thing to a plot, follows Berliners Felix and Ellen (August Diehl, Maria Simon), whose relationship is on the skids, driving across the U.S. After visiting the Grand Canyon, they overnight in a Nevada one-horse town with a hotel that attracts a loony ghost hunter (Bonnie Hellman). Cultural tensions between two well-traveled Euros and the hick locals provide some humor and dramatic bite, though the central resolution is again so-what.

The colder climes of Iceland and Berlin — both lensed in cool tones — deliver more substantial fare. Former provides a platform for a fly-in visit by writer Irene (Ina Weisse) and her best friend, Jonas (Wotan Wilke Moehring), to the home of friends Jonina (Solveig Arnarsdottir) and her husband (Valur Freyr Einarsson), in which sex is on the menu.

Berlin is the site of pic’s second best tale, in which a woman, Caro, visits actress friend Ruth (Chiara Schoras) and finds she and Ruth’s b.f., Raoul (Stipe Erceg), have a past history. As with the Venice episode, the simplest material turns out to be the most emotionally affecting, with a quietly calibrated perf by Karina Plachetka (the heartbroken g.f. in Gypkens’ “We”) as Caro.

Technical package is smooth, with transfer from HD to widescreen 35mm almost disguising pic’s digital origins.

Nothing But Ghosts

Germany

Production

A Senator Film release and presentation of a box! Film & Fernsehproduktion production, in association with Senator Film Produktion, Marco Polo High Definition, Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg. (International sales: Beta Cinema, Oberhaching, Germany.) Produced by Andreas Eicher, Rolf-H. Hammerstein, Michael Heiks. Co-producers, Frank Evers, Christian Colmorgen. Directed, written by Martin Gypkens, based on short stories from the collection by Judith Hermann.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen, HD-to-35mm), Eeva Fleig; editor, Karin Jacobs; music, Martin Todsharow; production designer, Joerg Prinz; costumes, Lisy Christl; sound (Dolby Digital), Bernd von Bassewitz, Tom Korr; assistant director, Meno Sellschopp; casting, Annette Borgmann. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 18, 2007. (Also in Locarno Film Festival -- Piazza Grande.) Running time: 129 MIN.

With

Maria Simon, August Diehl, Brigitte Hobmeier, Jessica Schwarz, Janek Rieke, Fritzi Haberlandt, Christine Schorn, Walter Kreye, Solveig Arnarsdottir, Ina Weisse, Wotan Wilke Moehring, Valur Freyr Einarsson, Karina Plachetka, Stipe Erceg, Chiara Schoras, Dale Dickey, Bonnie Hellman, Jack Impellizzeri, Maria Simon. (German, English, Icelandic dialogue)
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