Laboriously titled “About the Looking for and the Finding of Love” when a simple “Orpheus: The Travel Brochure” would suffice, Teuton director Helmut Dietl’s (“Shtonk!,” “Rossini”) latest is a plush romantic fantasia starring Moritz Bleibtreu and Alexandra Maria Lara as Eurovision Song Contest-style updates of Orph and Eurydice. Not as pretentious or maudlin as the myth’s last big-budget revamp, “What Dreams May Come,” the pic offers plentiful eye candy and a winking self-consciousness that pass time pleasantly enough but leave no more trace than a soap bubble. Theatrical biz won’t stretch far past stars’ drawing power, with DVD/tube sales traveling further.
Bleibtreu plays Mimi Nachtigal, a composer with Beethoven hair and a tortured-artist air. He finds his muse, and love at first sight, upon meeting forlorn opera-singer-in-training Venus Morgenstern (Lara).
Flash forward seven years: Mimi’s tantrum-prone perfectionism and the bathetic songs he self-loathingly dismisses have made pitch-impaired Venus an improbable pop sensation. But they’ve also left both parties barely tolerant of each other. Tensions finally implode during an award-ceremony performance. The two couldn’t be more publicly kaput.
Venus continues her career, still singing Mimi-penned hits, though she acquires a new manager-boyfriend (Justus Von Dohnanyi) who urges her toward more danceable, less angst-y material. Mimi, on the other hand, collapses into a pit of isolation and self-pity, clucked over by worried best-friend Theo (Uwe Ochesenknecht) to the chagrin of Theo’s randy, neglected wife Helena (Anke Engelke).
No longer able to bear living in the home he’d shared with Venus, Mimi travels to Theo’s gorgeous oceanside Greek vacation manse, where he promptly kills himself. Venus tracks him there, and discovers the house includes, among other amenities, a gateway to the Underworld. Venus soon takes the plunge to reclaim her beloved.
Full-on fantasy visuals don’t kick in until last half hour or so, when Mimi crosses over to the afterlife and Venus day-trips in pursuit, on a mission to return him to the land of the living, something accomplished rather too easily.
Dietl and “Perfume” novelist Patrick Suskind’s screenplay is an empty-calorie confection dusted with self-mocking bemusement, yet takes its eternal-love sentimentality straight-up. Nothing here resembles an honest emotion, though some viewers may find the aesthetic package diverting enough for a couple hours’ pure escapism.
Widescreen lensing, production design, costumes and location are all sumptuously color-coordinated, with an Underworld that feels like a five-star spa.
Given little to do but bicker and pine for each other solo, leads can’t be blamed for the lack of chemistry — trying to be contrary-cute, the script makes a too convincing a case for their staying apart. Bleibtreu’s charisma partly redeems an obnoxious character. Lara (“Downfall”) is blander, and her vocals are hard to take. Ochesenknecht and Engelke do their best as comedy relief. Biggest conceptual misstep is use of Ferch in a gender-blurred role presumably meant to be hip and progressive, but that instead comes off as mean-spirited.
Tech and design aspects are top-shelf. While CGI work isn’t seamless, this isn’t the kind of fantasy that requires suspension of disbelief.