Sumptuously lensed in widescreen, and with an elegance that German cinema hasn’t shown in decades, “Rossini” is an impressive ensembler set in an upscale Bavarian eatery that plays like a Claude Sautet movie on bratwurst. This latest pic from director Helmut Dietl — best known for the very different, and much more local, Hitler-diary spoof “Schtonk!” — has clocked up more than $ 20 million on home turf since its release in late January, and could conceivably break the hex on German movies’ exportability, given critical support and inventive marketing.
At home, the $ 6.5 million movie was heavily promoted by distrib Constantin with a $ 1.3 million marketing budget and a sexy campaign in all media, starting with a sensuous one-sheet. What ultimately sold the pic, however, was its tony cast anchored to a well-structured script and classy mise-en-scene. Though many of the names (apart from veterans Goetz George and Mario Adorf) won’t mean much to foreign auds, it’s easy to respond to the range of characters, overall warmth and seemingly effortless choreography of the large cast.
Setting in which most of the action takes place is a swank Schwabing restaurant called Rossini. It’s run by an Italian, Pierrot (Adorf), like his personal kingdom and frequented by media movers and shakers. Over the course of a couple of nights, various players work out their dreams and private demons, fight, argue and love. At times, there’s almost a legit feel to the movie in its dialogue-driven development, the use of the restaurant as a stage for human foibles and the oversize perfs.
Dominating the proceedings is film director Uhu (George), who’s looking for an actress to play Loreley, the mythical embodiment of German womanhood, in his dream project. While Uhu, who has deeply hidden doubts about his own career, strides about the place, a producer, Oskar (Heiner Lauterbach), is fighting off a bunch of bankers about to stop his credit line, and in a back room the reclusive writer of the Loreley novel, Jakob (Joachim Krol), is playing hard to get over the film rights.
Into this cauldron of media bitching comes Snow White (Veronica Ferres), an aspiring blond actress with her sights set on getting the role of Loreley. If that means going to bed with every man in the room, so be it — much to the consternation of her emotionally fragile girlfriend, Watussnik (Meret Becker).
As an elaborate game of artistic egos, high finance and tottering careers is played out, a host of other characters also work out their problems, including the beautiful but terminally lonely Valerie (Gudrun Landgrebe), who’s idolized by a cosmetic surgeon, Sigi (Armin Rohde).
Though it takes a while to sort out the large cast of characters, there’s enough going on here to fuel a couple of movies. The well-turned dialogue consistently engages the ear while lenser Gernot Roll seduces the eye with his widescreen compositions in the shadowy, candle-lit location. With its minimal depth of field, which heightens the intimacy of the performances, the ‘scope photography has an old-style, slightly blurred feel that’s very effective. Dario Farina’s involving, Morricone-ish score, though repetitive, is a major emotional assist throughout.
While the pic is dominated by experienced players George, Lauterbach, Krol and Adorf, there’s hardly a weak link in the cast, with even the wooden Ferres cleverly cast as a blond gold digger. Landgrebe’s character feels more like an add-on than an integral part of the main action, and the movie loses some of its flow in her melodramatic scenes, but the damage is slight overall.