'Hut in the Woods'

When a mentally unstable mathematician from Berlin ends up homeless, he befriends a similarly vulnerable young Ukrainian boy to find solace in nature in "Hut in the Woods," helmer Hans Weingartner's competent but fractionally too sentimental drama.

When a mentally unstable mathematician from Berlin ends up homeless, he befriends a similarly vulnerable young Ukrainian boy to find solace in nature in “Hut in the Woods,” helmer Hans Weingartner’s competent but fractionally too sentimental drama. Although thesps Peter Schneider and Timur Massold make an affecting duo, pic is infected with a twee, post-hippy strain of German Romanticism, while the script makes its big author’s-message points with thudding obviousness, also a flaw inherent in Weingartner’s earlier pics, “The Edukators” and “Reclaim Your Brain.” After a couple of fest forays, pic will open domestically in February.

Martin Blunt (Schneider) is forcibly admitted to a mental hospital and then, seemingly some time later, released. Turns out Martin has a beautiful but unbalanced mind that allows him to solve Sudoku problems in seconds, but his obsession with numbers has cost him his job at an urban planning firm and his relationship with g.f. Petra (Julia Jentsch), who shacked up with someone else while Martin was institutionalized.

In a detail that neatly elides what might have been days or months, Martin is evicted for failing to pay his rent. Meanwhile, 10-year-old emigre Viktor (Timur Massold) comes home to find his mother overdosed on smack and just manages to escape from the authorities, who want to put him into care. Martin and Viktor meet in a derelict squat, and despite the fact that they can’t speak each other’s languages, they team up to build the titular hut in the woods outside Berlin. There, they live in peace and mutual cooperation, subsisting on money earned by recycling discarded bottles and cans.

Auds well versed in the conventions of pics about the mentally ill will quickly work out that not everything is as it seems here; one of the major characters is suffering from delusions, and it turns out that some early events are actually flash-forwards — all of which is meant to suggest a disturbed mind’s shaky grasp on time and reality. Unfortunately, this makes it impossible to work out what exactly is going on in the final reels when the script ropes in a pretty dental hygienist (Henrike von Kuik) as a love interest for Martin.

Otherwise, it’s clear enough that Weingartner, and co-writer/co-director Cuneyt Kaya are trying to make a point about the restorative power of nature and innocence, held up in contrast to the wasteful, materialistic city, which chews people up and spits them out. A similar fuzzy idealism was at play in Weingartner’s earlier films, but here’s its executed with more seriousness. Fortunately, Schneider (“Schroeder’s Wonderful World”), giving an impressively physical perf, has the chops to lend gravitas and dignity to a role that, at its core, simply isn’t very well written.

Craft contributions are pro enough, but not especially outstanding. Editing, matching images to lyrics from non-source tunes by MOR singer-songwriter Damien Rice, is too often on-the-nose.

Hut in the Woods

Germany

Production

A Wild Bunch Germany release of a Wild Bunch Germany, Kahuuna Film production in co-production with SWR, Arte, with the support of Deutsche Filmfoerderfonds, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg. (International sales: Elle Driver, Paris.) Produced by Hans Weingartner, Jonas Dornbach. Executive producers, Ulrich Herrman, Georg Steinert. Directed by Hans Weingartner. Co-director, Cuneyt Kaya. Screenplay, Weingartner, Kaya.

Crew

Camera (color), Henner Besuch, Stefan Ciupek; editors, Andreas Wodraschke, Dirk Oetelshoven; music, Milena Fessmann; production designer, Sebastian Wurm; costume designer, Christian Roehrs; sound (Dolby Digital), Joerg Kidrowski, Garip Ozdem; sound designers, Bjoern Wiese, Stefan Soltau; re-recording mixer, Wiese; visual effects supervisor, Andreas Schellenberg; stunt coordinator, Volkhart Buff; assistant director, Christian Hoyer, Andrea Picht; casting, Karen Wendland, Silke Koch. Reviewed on DVD, Hoveton, U.K., Nov. 26, 2011. (In London Film Festival -- World Cinema; Rio de Janeiro Film Festival.) Running time: 116 MIN.

With

Peter Schneider, Timur Massold, Eleonore Weisgerber, Henrike von Kuik, Andreas Leupold, Julia Jentsch, Hannes Wegner. (German, Russian dialogue)

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