Slow to ingratiate but eventually quite winning, debuting helmer/co-scenarist Ingo Rasper’s “Fashion Victims” is a clever comedy with a leading character so dislikeable he almost kills the laughs. That the pic manages to overcome that — and even redeem the jerk in reasonably credible terms — lends it some heart and depth despite farcical plot complications. Pic won Berlin & Beyond Fest’s first-feature prize as well as an audience award at the Max Ophuls Festival, signaling Eurotube sales (a slightly shorter edit exists for telecast); gay angle should attract offshore specialty fests and DVD distribs.
Wolfgang Zenker (Edgar Selge) is a persnickety, humorless, self-absorbed suburbanite who’s alternately inattentive and insensitive toward wife Erika (Franziska Walser) and their teenage son Karsten (Florian Bartholomai). When he’s caught driving with a suspended license, Wolfgang abruptly cancels the planned study-abroad trip Karsten had saved for, demanding the boy instead spend the next weeks chauffeuring him around to his appointments as a women’s clothing sales rep. The drab duds targeting plus-size and “mature” customers he’s always sold, however, are suddenly being edged out by cheap, flashy, youthful fashions promoted by brash new salesman Steven (Roman Knizka).
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By sheer coincidence, latter meets and strikes romantic sparks with the barely legal Karsten — each unaware that the handsome 30ish pursuer is the deadly enemy of the youngster’s dad. Meanwhile, Erika, egged on by her male-bashing friend (Traute Hoess), considers a divorce — and that’s even before she realizes Wolfgang’s kept secret an escalating financial crisis that will impact the entire family.
Indeed, as played to irksome perfection by Selge (“Das Experiment”), Wolfgang is frequently so despicable — he decimates his son’s college fund on the sly, calls Erika a “stupid cow” when he thinks she can’t hear, insults his own customers’ looks when they start buying Steven’s skintight wears — that some of “Fashion Victims” is almost too cruel to be funny.
It helps that the frisson between Steven and Karsten is sexy, and just sweet enough to offset its initial robbing-the-cradle vibe. After a classically farcical door-slamming, slapstick-driven action climax, the script by Rasper and Tom Streuber pulls off the unlikely by making this seemingly unsalvagable family’s reconciliation low-key, poignant and pleasing.
Bartholomai’s nicely etched turn as the precociously diplomatic yet tough-loving Karsten has won him several Teutonic newcomer awards. But all perfs are first-rate.General production look is routine; “Fashion Victims” won’t lose anything in smallscreen translation. Tech contribs are pro.