Writer-director Dennis Todorovic lands a crowdpleasing winner with sophomore feature “Sasha.” Agreeably cluttered tale of a Yugoslavian refugee clan in Germany and its closeted favorite son has a shot at being gay audiences’ equivalent of this year’s Amerindie sleeper hit “City Island,” whose inspired comedy likewise sprang from touchy, argumentative family dynamics. Strand plans a Stateside release early next year.
The Petrovics have been living in Cologne for 20 years, living above the pub they own. But their lifestyle and social attitudes remain, in many ways, pure Montenegro — which is why Sasha (Sascha Kekez) hasn’t come out to anyone. Certainly not to his blustery, macho dad, Vlado (Predrag Bjelac), or to his conspicuously long-suffering mom, Stanka (Zeljka Preksavec), who has placed a considerable burden on Sasha’s shoulders, hoping to realize her own dreams through his success as a classical pianist. Completing the boisterous household are a second son, genial fauxhawked Boki (Jasin Mjumjunow), whose lighter ambitions rest in competitive rowing; and Uncle Pero (Ljubisa Gruicic), a goofball visiting from rural Bosnia.
The pressure is on as Sasha faces an important audition that will determine his further musical education. He’s smitten with his handsome piano teacher, Gebhard (Tim Bergmann), and their relationship is mutually if unadmittedly flirtatious. Ergo, Sasha is crushed to learn Gebhard has accepted a more prestigious position in distant Vienna, for which he’ll be leaving all too soon.
This crisis prompts Sasha to reveal all to best friend Jiao (Yvonne Yung Hee), a violin student, who had hoped for an entirely different amorous confession from him. Once she gets over that, she pushes him to declare his love at a bar where he knows Gebhard will be hanging out. That tactic doesn’t play out too well, however, in one of pic’s several modest but neat deployments of physical comedy.
Meanwhile, Boki crushes on an initially disinterested Jiao; Gebhard is chided by ex-lover Peter (Arno Kempf) for his party-hearty selfishness; Vlado and Stanka’s marriage suffers fissures; and Uncle Pero proves pretty hapless at renovating their bathroom.
Todorovic successfully introduces darker elements into what’s primarily an easygoing comedic narrative, even stirring in some suspense toward the end. But mostly, pic sports a slightly off-center, very Eastern European sense of droll humor toward serious matters. While its tearier moments can be a bit hamfisted and its pacing occasionally lags, “Sasha” delights overall with its physically modest yet considerable narrative arc involving characters who are at once funny and fully dimensional.
Strong perfs are supported by smart packaging, highlighted by d.p. Andreas Kohler’s sharp compositional sense and an amusing, borderline-overbusy mix of pre-existing soundtrack selections, including some raucous Yugo-rock.