In "Shifting the Blame," a vicious juvenile thug's rehabilitation is complicated when the woman he'd assaulted turns out to be house mother at the experimental correction facility he's sent to.

In “Shifting the Blame,” a vicious juvenile thug’s rehabilitation is complicated when the woman he’d assaulted turns out to be house mother at the experimental correction facility he’s sent to. Lars-Gunner Lotz’s accomplished first feature, penned by Anna Maria Prassler, requires a major suspension of disbelief over this key coincidence. Viewers who can swallow it, however, will likely find themselves engrossed by this familiar but effective tale of tough-love redemption. Beyond continued fest play, pic should attract some tube and rental sales while boosting its creators’ future prospects.

Running errands in town, Eva (Julia Brendler) is car-jacked by two masked youths who force her at knifepoint to an ATM. Even after they’ve gotten what they wanted, one perp brutally kicks her again and again before driving off with the stolen car. Later, trigger-tempered Ben (Edin Hasanovic) is arrested for an unrelated crime — his partner got off on probation — and rather improbably, given his violent loathing of authority, gets picked to serve his sentence in rural Waldhaus, an open prison whose few underage inmates are given the chance to prove themselves via a rigorous program of counseling, work and mutual cooperation.

After initial resistance, Ben does indeed start shaping up. But he fears losing the ground he’s gained, and of being tried for the crime for which he hasn’t been caught yet, when it turns out the wife — and co-worker — of site manager Niklas (Marc Ben Puch) is none other than Eva. Not only has she spent two months recovering from her trauma, but the incident took the life of her unborn child.

At first she has no suspicions toward Ben, though assigned mentor Tobias (Pit Bukowski) soon susses out his roommate’s guilty secret, and uses it against him in their rivalry for the affections of a pretty grad-student intern (Natalia Rudziewicz). But Eva soon figures things out, too, and there’s plenty of forgiveness that must be won.

Bypassing hand-wringing melodrama and sentimentality, the filmmakers make the rather implausible premise compelling enough, aided by solid perfs. Production values are modest but well crafted.

Shifting the Blame

Germany

Production

An FFL Film and Fernseh Labor production in association with SWR, Arte and Filmakademie Baden-Wurttemberg. (International sales: FFL, Ludwigsburg, Germany.) Produced by Matthias Drescher, Philipp Knauss. Co-producers, Franziska Specht, Sebastian Sawetzki, Manuel Challal. Directed by Lars-Gunner Lotz. Screenplay, Anna Maria Prassler.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Jan Prahl; editor, Julia Boehm; music, Sea + Air; production designer, Ina Kufner; costume designer, Tanja Gierich, Ule Barcelos; sound/sound designer, Christian Heck; casting, Kare Wendland. Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival (First Films -- competing), Aug. 28, 2012. Running time: 93 MIN.

With

Edin Hasanovic, Julia Brendler, Marc Ben Puch, Pit Bukowski, Natalia Rudziewicz.
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