Middle age as a permanent hangover
by Boyd van Hoeij
- In Whisky with Vodka, which won Andreas Dresen the Best Director Award at Karlovy Vary, an aging actor is confronted with his shortcomings while shooting a 1920s-set comedy
German director Andreas Dresen’s previous films have all had an element of the everyday and a lack of theatricality, but in his latest effort, Whisky with Wodka [+see also:
interview: Andreas Dresen
film profile] (note the preposition), he tries to combine both. The setting – a contemporary film set where a feature set in the roaring 20s is being shot – allows this to happen naturally and some of the filmmaker’s regular themes surface despite the occasional period trappings and combination of period and more naturalistic acting styles.
The film was written by screenwriter Wolfgang Kohlhaase, who previous wrote Dresen’s 2005 feature Summer in Berlin [+see also:
film profile] (Best Screenplay at San Sebastian). Like that film, there is again a certain sense of melancholy behind everything that seems to be happening on the surface. Some of the themes Dresen and Kohlhaase explore in Whisky with Vodka, including aging and the importance of living the moment since it might not come to pass again, are a logical continuation of Dresen’s Cannes Un certain regard favourite Cloud 9 [+see also:
film profile] (which Kohlhaase didn’t write).
Because of the partial period setting and some of the enormous egos involved, however, there is a slightly more frivolous atmosphere than usual for Dresen’s normally quite sober work.
The protagonist (as well as the main consumer) of Whisky with Vodka is the cantankerous but undeniably gifted and loved thespian Otto (Henry Hübchen, from Go for Zucker! [+see also:
film profile]). He has been cast in a 1920s melodrama of dynamic young director Martin Telleck (Sylvester Groth), who did not imagine the actor in the role – he’s a bit too old, a bit too rotund, a bit too difficult to work with. However, the filmmaker has had to bend to pressure from his producer, who does not want to take any risks on the expensive period production.
It is exactly this attitude that sets up the story’s main motor, as the producer decides to film all of Otto’s scenes with a younger actor as well, after Otto makes a mess of things. This younger actor, Arno (Markus Herring), comes from the theatre and is himself a big fan of Otto. The lauded actor is of course none to pleased about the new developments, and he finds solace with actress Bettina (Corinna Harfouch), a former flame who also stars in the film and is currently dating the director.
From this complicated web, Dresen spins a leisurely tragicomic tale that gently floats along as egos deflate and a more serious consideration of the lives of these apparently frivolous people slowly but surely develops. It is in scenes such as the encounter between Bettina and Otto at an inn where they made love 14 years earlier that the characters truly come alive.
The comedy stems not only from the gently witty dialogue, but there are also visual gags (a priceless bit involves a wine bottle that doesn’t want to break) and the obvious fun Dresen had with the film-within-the-film, which allows him to play around with classical film grammar and larger means than in most of his semi-documentary films (rain effects, crane shots, period costumes and hair).