An irresponsible alcoholic actor is forced to stay sharp when the producer of his current pic double-casts his role in the bittersweet comedy “Whisky With Vodka.” Scripted by vet writer Wolfgang Kohlhaase, the dialogue in this latest outing from versatile Teuton director Andreas Dresen (“Cloud 9”) is full of contempo in-jokes that will have media-savvy home-turf auds busting a gut while non-German speakers scratch their heads. Theatrical should segue into broadcast in German-lingo territories, while fests rep the pic’s best opportunity offshore.
Even if the humor doesn’t fully translate, foreign viewers should appreciate the good-looking pic’s sendup of the deceits and compromises moviemaking demands. But “Whisky” is more than a Deutsche “Day for Night”; recalling the work of Woody Allen, its underlying themes tap into universals such as fear of aging, loneliness, missed opportunities and self-deception.
When popular actor Otto Kullberg (Henry Hubchen) goes on a bender and misses a day of work on the erotic love triangle “Tango for Three,” an ambitious younger thesp, Arno Runge (Markus Hering), is brought in to shoot the same scenes. But Arno faces an untenable Catch-22: If he gives a good performance, it will push Otto to be better, making it unlikely for Arno to wind up onscreen.
Although “Tango’s” writer-director, Martin Telleck (Sylvester Groth), continually claims, “I’m not a bucket for people to shit in,” he quickly caves in to the never-seen producer’s demands. It soon becomes apparent that he’s a spineless opportunist who only cast Otto because he’s a box office draw.
Leading lady Bettina (Corinna Harfouch, less brittle than usual) now enjoys a marriage of convenience with Telleck, but regards Otto, with whom she had an early liaison, as the great love of her life. Nevertheless, she’s not above starting something with Arno. Further adding to the romantic entanglements, sparky ingenue Heike (Valery Tscheplanowa) strings along the camera assistant whom assistant director Melanie (Karina Plachetka) pines for.
Demanding much more artifice than Dresen’s usual gritty stories of daily life, the pic proves he’s got the chops to sustain different styles, including the 1920s-era film-within-the-film. Indeed, his smooth helming copped the director kudo at the Karlovy Vary fest. Of the actors, Hubchen makes the strongest impression in a roguish mode similar to his part in “Go for Zucker”; mop-haired Hering plays a wide-eyed Gene Wilder to his Zero Mostel.
The golden-hued lensing and soundtrack of big-band standards lead the fine tech package and furthers comparisons with Allen’s oeuvre.