Proving once again that any history can be made into formulaic feel-good pablum, Daniel Bruhl vehicle "Lessons of a Dream" hits all the expected revisionist PC notes in positing soccer's arrival as a liberating force in stuffy late-19th century Germany.

Proving once again that any history can be made into formulaic feel-good pablum, Daniel Bruehl vehicle “Lessons of a Dream” hits all the expected revisionist PC notes in positing soccer’s arrival as a liberating force in stuffy late-19th-century Germany. As chockfull of up-with-people inspirational uplift as its title indicates, this handsome but thoroughly contrived diversion will fill slots adequately in limited offshore theatrical and wider ancillary placements.

Hired to launch English-language instruction at a militaristic boys’ academy in 1874, native German Konrad Koch (Bruehl) has just returned from four years’ study at Oxford, which apparently was a hotbed of progressive thought and instruction by comparison.

The students, accustomed to maximum rigidity, are initially more nonplussed than pleased by his attempts to make learning more participatory. Fed up by their intransigence, he eventually marches them into the gymnasium — usually the site of dull strength-demonstration exercises — and with the ball he’s carried like a precious babe from Britain, introduces them to this disconcertingly fun sport as a means of drilling vocabulary.

Even this modest break from convention seems wave-making at an institution whose headmaster (Burghart Klaussner) and staff bow to the xenophobic proprieties of wealthy local businessman Hartung (Justus von Dohnanyi), heavy-handed head of the school’s funding board. Hartung and Koch soon clash, with Hartung’s proto-Nazi Youth son Felix (Theo Trebs) expected to play classroom informer so daddy can get rid of this untoward interloper.

Echoing pop’s prejudices, Felix also leads the bullying of Joost (Adrian Moore), a lowly factory worker’s son who as the first beneficiary of a charity scholarship is clearly to be discouraged whenever possible. Of course, he turns out to be a natural at soccer, just as the likewise parentally nagged fat kid (Till Valentin Winter) proves a born goalie.

For the benefit of contempo audiences, lower-class women are made spunky and resourceful, snobbish gentry get put in their place, tolerance lessons are learnt all around, convenient last-minute solutions arise to equally predictable obstacles, romantic interests arrive on cue, and it naturally all ends in a thrilling soccer match (guess who wins). There’s even a “Spartacus” moment when the freshly untamed students all confess to one mate’s offense.

While there is some actual truth buried in “Dream” (a closing title notes that this controversially “foreign” sport remained banned in conservative Bavaria as late as 1927), Philipp Roth and Johanna Stuttmann’s screenplay makes every narrative turn feel driven by demographically targeted marketing data. Likewise first-time feature helmer Sebastian Grobler handles his duties with professional assurance, but demonstrates no individual style or personality.

Perfs are satisfactory, tech/design aspects polished.

Lessons of a Dream

Germany

Production

A Beta Cinema presentation of a Deutschfilm, Cuckoo Clock Entertainment and Senator Film production in association with Rialto Film and ARD Degeto. (International sales: Beta, Oberhaching.) Produced by Anatol Nitschke, Raoul Reinert. Co-producers, Helge Sasse, Matthias Wendlandt, Felix Wendlandt, Hans-Wolfgang Jurgan. Directed by Sebastian Grobler. Screenplay, Philipp Roth, Johanna Stuttmann, based on an idea by Grobler and Raoul Reinert.

Crew

Camera (color), Martin Langer; editor, Dirk Grau; music, Ingo Frenzel; production designer, Thomas Freudenthal; art directors, Dominik Kremerskothen, Elisa Runer; set decorator, Daniele Drobny; costume designer, Monika Jacobs; sound (Dolby Digital), Richard Borowski; sound designer, Kai Storck; assistant director, Cecile Heisler-Zigulla; casting, Heta Mantscheff. Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival, competing), Aug. 23, 2011. Running time: 113 MIN.

With

Daniel Bruehl, Burghart Klaussner, Justus von Dohnanyi, Kathrin von Steinburg, Theo Trebs, Thomas Thieme, Adrian Moore, Till Valentin Winter, Jurgen Tonkel; Axel Prahl, Vincent Kastner, Henriette Confurius. (German, English dialogue)

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more