Takes a road-movie template and transforms it into a surprisingly effective portrait of lost souls.

Teuton dramedy “Vincent Wants to Sea” takes a threadbare road-movie template involving three walking (no, make that driving) cliches and transforms it into a surprisingly effective portrait of damaged but lovable lost souls on the road. Though the film is ably directed by Ralf Huettner, kudos go in large part to thesp Florian David Fitz (“Men in the City”), who not only stars but also penned the solid screenplay, his first. After a modest debut late April, pic has become Germany’s second-biggest local title of the year through strong word of mouth. Fests should take note.

Twentysomething Vincent (Fitz) suffers from Tourette syndrome, which results in physical and vocal tics he has to fight to control. When Vincent’s mother dies, it is up to his busy politician father, Robert (Heino Ferch), to look after him, but he is too busy campaigning for the upcoming elections. “See you at Christmas,” his dad says rather unceremoniously when dropping his son off at the clinic of Dr. Rose (Katharina Mueller-Elmau) before hitting the road again.

But the lovable doofus protag doesn’t want to stay there, even though he quickly strikes up a friendship with an anorexic pot-smoker, Marie (Karoline Herfurth), and finds a more-or-less workable arrangement with his obsessive-compulsive roommate, Alexander (Johannes Allmayer). The trio escapes in Dr. Rose’s car and heads in the direction of Italy, where Vincent wants to take the ashes of his mother, which he keeps in a candy tin in his pocket.

Setup and broad personality outlines are almost entirely made up of recycled material. But through carefully observed character moments, such as the early encounters between Vincent and Marie, pic gently springs loose from its generic origins, with the screenplay, direction and performances all perfectly calibrated, infusing each character with a life of his or her own on the trip through the Alps.

Perfs by the central trio always stay closer to realism than to caricature. Fitz, playing some 10 years younger, is aces in the role he wrote for himself, but Herfurth (“Perfume: The Story of a Murderer”) also offers nuanced work. A sex scene between the two is cleverly used to reveal character rather than nudity, and the sobering ending underlines the makers’ commitment to keeping things real.

Slapstick, gross-out humor and more sophisticated character comedy are sprinkled throughout, a lot of the laughs coming from the mismatched team of Dr. Rose, who has anger-management issues, and Vincent’s cold-hearted father, who are forced to pursue the escapees in their own car. Mueller-Elmau and Ferch play their supporting characters more broadly, but Huettner’s direction never allows the duo to veer off the road.

Visually, d.p. Andreas Berger alternates TV-style closeups with compositions that take greater advantage of the film’s widescreen canvas, especially in the Alps. English-language pop songs on the soundtrack, including new work from Teuton band Cargo City, is largely generic, and further brings out the pic’s similarities to Til Schweiger’s “Barefoot,” another local hit movie involving dysfunctional characters on a road trip.

Pun in the original title translates as both “Vincent Wants More” and “Vincent Wants the Sea.”

Vincent Wants to Sea

Germany

Production

A Constantin Film release of an Olga Film production. (International sales: Beta Cinema, Munich.) Produced by Viola Jaeger, Harald Kuegler. Directed by Ralf Huettner. Screenplay, Florian David Fitz.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Andreas Berger; editor, Kai Schroeter; music, Stevie B-Zet, Ralf Hildenbeutel; production designer, Heidi Luedi; costume designer, Natascha Curtius-Noss; sound (Dolby Digital), Ed Cantu; assistant director, Joschen Gosch; casting, Nessie Nesslauer. Reviewed at Cine Utopia, Luxembourg, May 27, 2010. (In Cannes Film Festival -- market.) Running time: 96 MIN.

With

Florian David Fitz, Karoline Herfurth, Katharina Mueller-Elmau, Heino Ferch, Johannes Allmayer. (German, Italian dialogue)

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