The Loneliness of the Crocodiles

An ersatz scribe travels to the German hinterlands to find out the truth about his cousin's suicide in "The Loneliness of the Crocodiles," an eccentric, thoughtful and cumulatively charming spin on "Local Hero" seasoned with echoes of "Baghdad Cafe." Pic will make friends on the fest circuit and, with proper handling, could find appreciative arthouse auds.

With:
With: Janek Rieke, Thomas Schmauser, Rosemarie Fendel, Julia Jaeger, Arndt Schwering-Sohnrey, Renate Krossner, Ernst Stotzner, Dynelle Rhodes, Hans-Michael Rehberg.

An ersatz scribe travels to the German hinterlands to find out the truth about his cousin’s suicide in “The Loneliness of the Crocodiles,” an eccentric, thoughtful and cumulatively charming spin on “Local Hero” seasoned with echoes of “Baghdad Cafe.” Pic will make friends on the fest circuit and, with proper handling, could find appreciative arthouse auds and ancillary success.

Learning of mysterious suicide of estranged relative Guenther (Thomas Schmauser) from audiotaped interviews with his Aunt Gisela (Rosemarie Fendel), timid yet good-looking Elias (Janek Rieke) travels from Hamburg to a rainy village in East Westphalia to discover the truth.

At first what he finds is less than illuminating: a trio of toughs are harassing innkeeper Heike (Julia Jaeger); someone is killing off the region’s pigs; and Guenther’s parents won’t talk to him.

As Elias tries to conduct interviews, Guenther’s childhood plays out in flashback, narrated by Aunt Gisela: Doted upon by his parents and raised in full view of the goings-on in the back of their butcher shop (in sequences sure to make vegans of the faint-hearted), he’s picked on by boys who will become the toughs that harass the innkeeper. He grows up to be a tremulous intellectual with zero sense of self.

After a tender yet quirky relationship with sassy, zaftig American Mary (Dynelle Rhodes) is nixed by his folks, Guenther begins spouting phrases like “the dignity of the pig is inviolable,” withdraws further and eventually does himself in with pills.

“How can you tell if someone’s crazy?” is a question posed during the proceedings, and TV vet Jobst Oetzmann, working from a novel by Dirk Kurbjuweit, has created a world in which everyday events and people’s reactions to them are just off-kilter enough to sustain the query to feature length. Well-drawn point seems to be that we’re all swine despite our individual eccentricities, which doesn’t look that appealing on paper but resonates nicely in context.

Like pic itself, thesps and tech credits are discreetly capable; each perf is pitched to fit snugly with the next, and cleffer Dieter Schliep’s whimsical, full-bodied score is a major plus.

The Loneliness of the Crocodiles

Germany

Production: An Olga Film, ZDF production. (International sales: Bavaria Film Intl., Geiselgasteig, Germany.) Produced by Molly von Furstenberg, Harald Kugler. Directed, written by Jobst Oetzmann, from the novel by Dirk Kurbjuweit.

Crew: Camera (color), Hanno Lentz; editor, Christel Sukow; music, Dieter Schliep; production designer, Monika Bauer; sound (Dolby Digital), Andreas Woelki. Reviewed on videocassette, Wheaton, Md., Aug. 21, 2001. (In Mill Valley Film Festival.) Running time: 93 MIN.

With: With: Janek Rieke, Thomas Schmauser, Rosemarie Fendel, Julia Jaeger, Arndt Schwering-Sohnrey, Renate Krossner, Ernst Stotzner, Dynelle Rhodes, Hans-Michael Rehberg.

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