A Swiss-German slacker realizes something must have gone horribly wrong at home while he was enjoying a holiday in the paradisiacal Maldives in “A Thousand Oceans,” the sophomore effort of Swiss helmer Luki Frieden (“November”). Ambitious but flawed psychological drama dawdles before its big reveal halfway through, but the acting is strong enough to get auds to the affecting second half, which has some nice — if not fully developed — ideas. Indie fests will want to dive in before “Oceans” is swallowed up in Eurotube package deals.
On the day he’s made a junior partner at the car dealership of his hard-nosed father (Thierry van Werveke), 24-year-old bum Meikel (Max Riemelt) is persuaded by his friend Bjorn (Maximilian Simonischek) to escape to the Maldives with him for a final carefree holiday. However, when he returns home, Meikel realizes something has irrevocably changed during his absence.
However, everyone, including his French-speaking mother (Nicole Max) and younger brother (Joel Basman), is keeping mum. Initially, Meikel is convinced the mystery has something to do with Bjorn, who refused to return home from the Maldives with him. But it gradually becomes clear the problem may lie with Meikel himself.
Ominous shots of dark-water waves and a coolly menacing score by Luk Zimmermann clue in auds early on that something else is going on just beneath the surface. But it takes more than 40 of the pic’s 80 minutes to get to the explanation that reconfigures the first half, and it’s only beyond this point that things become really interesting.
Frieden and co-writers Jasmine Hoch and Thommie Bayer simply move the characters around in the early stages to hide the twist — precious time they could have used to further develop some of the narrative and visual opportunities of the latter half. Editor Misch Bervard’s klutzy shuffling of the many narrative loose ends doesn’t help.
German thesp Riemelt (“Napola”) convincingly limns a character scarred by an overbearing father and unsure how to take his future into his own hands. His very different perf in the latter part of the film is just as strong, effectively gluing the film’s two halves together. Other roles are underwritten, with only the late Luxembourg character actor van Werveke (“Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”) adding some depth as Meikel’s father, especially in a poignant scene of him breaking down at his son’s desk.
D.p. Carlo Thiel overdoes the jitters but gets the most out of the locations on an obviously tight budget. Other tech credits are modest.