Matthias Glasner's film is structurally flawed and morally suspect.

An alcoholic cop abandoned by her husband interrogates a child trafficker in love with a 10-year-old prostitute in Matthias Glasner’s structurally flawed and morally suspect “This Is Love.” More mired in miserablism and self-humiliation than Glasner’s “The Free Will,” “Love” never finds its proper groove, inexpertly juggling several stories, all pitched at an impossibly heightened level of tension. Worse, the final shot appears to convey the message that pedophilia can be acceptable if the parties involved truly love each other. Regional play is the best that can be expected.

Around the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Maggie (Corinna Harfouch) discovers her husband has left her and their daughter Nina. She apparently spends the next 16 years in an alcoholic haze, and at odds with her professional partner, Roland (Devid Striesow), who, it’s later learned, is inexplicably still in love with this very unlovable woman following a brief sexual fling.

Meanwhile, Chris (Jens Albinus) goes to Vietnam with his partner, Holger (Juergen Vogel, “The Free Will”), to “liberate” child prostitutes by buying them from their pimps and selling them in Europe to wealthy couples looking to adopt. They bring Jenjira (Lisa Nguyen) to Germany with them, but when the prospective parents renege, Holger wants to return Jenjira to Saigon (really? And pay for the flight?). But Chris has fallen for the preternaturally mature, English-speaking tot. The Vietnamese mob wants its money, so Chris and Jenjira need to find a hiding place.

Glasner intercuts the background stories of Chris, Jenjira and Maggie while also bringing them into the present, where Maggie (often drunk) interrogates Chris, who refuses to say where Jenjira is hidden. Maggie fails to catch on that Chris’ recurrent questions about the number of days that have passed means there’s something time-sensitive going on, though auds will get it immediately. They’re also sure to get the highly problematic meaning of a final hand grasp that cements the relationship — already sexual — between Chris and Jenjira.

It’s as if Glasner wants to have it both ways: He perhaps wants a different take on the subject of child prostitutes and the mixed messages given off by their protectors, but at the same time, he offers the same cliches, while trafficking in a gloom so oppressive it verges on parody. Although the usually fine actors assembled are pushed into the realm of caricature, there is one standout: Nguyen is frighteningly good as Jenjira, at once a child and a sexually knowing creature already wise in the ways of adult manipulation. It would be nice to think there are more varied roles out there for this talented young actress.

Editing is problematic, overwhelmed by the number of strands; lensing, however is classically slick, if cold.

This Is Love

Germany

Production

A Kinowelt presentation of a Badlands Film Produktion, Cine Plus Filmproduktion, Schwarzweiss Filmproduktion production, in association with WDR, Arte. (International sales: TrustNordisk, Hvidovre, Denmark.) Produced by Matthias Glasner, Juergen Vogel, Lars Kraume, Frank Doehmann. Co-producers, Andrea Hanke, Andreas Schreitmueller, Frank Evers, Joerg Schulze. Directed, written by Matthias Glasner.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Sonja Rom; editor, Mona Brauer, Heike Gnida; music, Julian Maas, Christoph M. Kaiser; production designer, Frank Pruemmer; costume designer, Sabine Keller; sound (Dolby Digital), Stefan Soltau, Bjorn Wiese; casting, Simone Baer, Patrick Dreikauss. Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (competing), Sept. 20, 2009. Running time: 111 MIN.

With

Corinna Harfouch, Jens Albinus, Lisa Nguyen, Juergen Vogel, Devid Striesow, Ernst Stoetzner, Valerie Koch, Jesper Christensen, Tatja Seibt, Hannes Wegener. (German, English, Danish dialogue)

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