“Paths in the Night” is a slice of ’70s existential German cinema with a few ’90s tricks up its sleeve. Rigorously shot by ace lenser Juergen Juerges in B&W, and populated by characters who either wander around with hidden agendas or engage in infuriatingly vague conversations, the movie has a distinctive style and dry humor but ultimately refuses to add up to much. Its choice as opening film by the new-leadership Directors Fortnight looks to be more significant in the long run than its commercial chances beyond the festival circuit.
Film is essentially a meditation on a new phenomenon in Germany society: the sense of impotence and frustration felt by middle-agers suddenly faced with unemployment. Walter (Hilmar Thate, from Fassbinder’s “Veronika Voss”) is a 55 -year-old man who previously held some undefined powerful position but now finds himself on the garbage heap. His wife (Cornelia Schamus) works as a waitress, and they have no children.
Walter wanders around at night trying to do good for his fellow citizens, but as his sense of worthlessness grows (and he slowly tips into quiet madness) he ends up befriending a young couple (Dirk Borchardt, Henriette Heinze) with distinctly antisocial attitudes. Determined to at least save face with his wife, he decides to steal an expensive necklace from a jewelry store.
Choice by helmer Andreas Kleinert (“In the Name of Innocence”) to shoot in B&W gives the pic a distinctly retro feel, though his precision technique and low-key irony are solidly contemporary, bringing a detached, slightly condescending feel to the proceedings. Within their severely scripted limits, performances are fine, with veteran Thate and striking newcomer Heinze making the most impact. But at base this is no more than an intriguing exercise in style.