Off Beat: Love and Other Drugs
by Boyd van Hoeij
18/02/2011 - The Swiss Panorama title Off Beat [trailer] is director Jan Gassmann’s first fiction feature and his second effort to be showcased at the Berlinale after his 2007 documentary Chrigu [trailer].
The 90-minute film is set in the world of Swiss rap music, which hasn’t graced the screen since Samir’s 2005 feature Snow White [trailer, film focus]. It follows the life, full of excesses and melancholy, of 26-year old Lukas (Hans-Jakob Mühlethaler, also known as Chocolococolo), who realizes that his dream of becoming a rap star is slowly fading.
Lukas’s life is dominated by secrets: He lives together with Mischa (Domenico Pecoraio), with whom he not only manages a hemp plantation in a derelict old factory building, but who is also his secret lover, twenty years his senior.
The main motor of drama is his 16-year-old little brother, Sämi (Manuel Neuburger), himself an aspiring rock star who not only seems to have the talent required but also the determination. A dramatic triangle is created when Mischa gets fed up with Lukas’s drug use and paranoia and he suggests working with Sämi instead, which sends Lukas into a further downwards spiral, fuelled by excessive drug use until he ends up in a hospital.
Propelled by music (created for the film by the talented Mundartisten collective) and an approach that mirrors the excesses of the protagonist, Off Beat is at its heart a character study of someone who has lost the sense of who he really is and what he wants out of life.
Unsurprisingly, seen the background of the director, the film has many documentary touches, including the handheld camerawork (almost all shot in available light, further augmenting the documentary feel) and the casting, with Chocolococolo and Sämi both coming from the world of music and rap, which blurs the boundary between the characters they play and themselves.
The film way produced by young Swiss producer Thomas Jörg of Diagonal, which also handle international sales.