Perfectly scaled father-son comedy hits all the right notes while scoring subtle points about East-West divisions, gradually fading in modern Germany. Named after the bland supermarket chain cropping up everywhere in the new Europe, “Netto” nabbed a best German pic prize at this year’s Berlin Film Festival and then promptly fell off the map. Ideal fest fare should have long life on the circuit, though, and could even tread lightly where “Good Bye Lenin!” has been.
Marcel (Milan Peschel) eked out a living under the Communists as an electronics repairman but is having trouble adjusting to a more competitive system. He veers between rants against globalization and dreams of being a highly paid bodyguard (he likes the sunglasses and suits).
Marcel’s alcoholic self-pity is the main reason he lost his wife (Christina Grosse) and son Sebastien (Sebastien Butz) years earlier to the West. So, he barely knows Sebastien when the 15-year-old lad suddenly shows up at the door of his rundown apartment — although it’s only a few miles east of mom’s swell digs.
Thoroughly assimilated and fluent in computerese, the tall, dark-haired boy does share his dad’s overriding cynicism. Also, he is thoroughly disenchanted with his mom and her slick b.f. (Bernd Lamprecht), whom he considers a phony.
Despite initial unease, the father and son settle into a kind of rhythm, with dad encouraging his son to have the courage to date a local girl (winsome Stephanie Charlotta Koetz) who is just as droll and hilariously flat-voiced as he is. Meanwhile, the boy whips Marcel into shape, most amusingly, for a major job interview.
Naturally, being a dyed-in-the-wool loser, dad has to blow it whenever the stakes get too high, but first-time picmaker Robert Thalheim — a film-school student — keeps viewers’ affection for the characters high, no matter what they do.
Marcel’s fixation on ’70s country star Peter Tschernig, who dominates the soundtrack of this confidently loose-limbed effort, has a nice payoff when “the German Johnny Cash” shows up in the final scene. Intriguingly, former campmaster Rosa von Praunheim serves as straight-ahead art director for this student-run project.