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BERLINALE 2020 Panorama

Review: One of These Days

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- BERLINALE 2020: In his new film, Bastian Günther talks about real monster trucks

Review: One of These Days
Joe Cole and Donna Duplantier in One of These Days

Bastian Günther’s One of These Days [+see also:
trailer
interview: Bastian Günther
film profile
]
– premiering in the 70th Berlinale’s Panorama section – opens, as they do sometimes, with a “this film is inspired by true events” statement. It is rather necessary this time, to be honest, for nobody would ever believe what it’s actually depicting: a Texan “Hands on a Hardbody” contest that sees people compete for a new pick-up truck. The only twist? They have to stand around it, with their hands glued to the vehicle, hoping that at the end of the day, they will be the last man standing. Or, rather, at the end of the days, as it sure takes a while to determine the winner. And, boy, is it hot over there.

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Already captured by S R Bindler in his Hands on a Hard Body: The Documentary, it’s a concept so mental that it’s a wonder there haven’t been more movies about it. Günther, himself based partly in Austin, is certainly trying to make up for it with his small-scale ensemble drama, and although he doesn’t quite make it to the finish line, there is some value in his take on the “endurance contest”, as it’s innocently called. Mostly because, while perfectly aware of the sheer absurdity of it all (as proven by the decision to start the feature with a presentation by a car salesman, explaining the main idea and then celebrating by doing the robot dance), he certainly doesn’t mock it.

He acknowledges the fact that, for this lucky few, selected by a draw, the stakes are high and any advice is highly valued. “Lots of water and bananas – maybe an orange every once in a while,” goes one tip, courtesy of Carrie Preston’s chirpy organiser. Not that it helps all that much once the going gets tough, as young father Kyle (Joe Cole), trying his best to combat the sweat and loud music, is soon to discover. Although every participant here enters the contest for different reasons, given that they are left facing complete strangers for hours, tensions skyrocket, and the heavily accented insults start to fly. In no time, people go from cocky (“I’m going to last longer. That’s it, that’s my plan,” says one of them smugly) to furious and then just resigned, as not even the brief bathroom breaks seem to bring any relief.

Preston is usually the best thing in everything she does, from True Blood to The Good Wife, and Cole does a decent job of capturing his character’s vulnerability and his gradual downfall. But despite Günther’s efforts, the main concept is still much more interesting than its execution – although there is a nagging feeling that if it could just get a slightly glossier treatment, it would probably make for a nice modern classic, following in the exhausted footsteps of Pollack’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, focusing on a group of people desperate to win a Depression-era dance marathon. In fact, its 1969 tagline is just as appropriate now, as no matter the outcome, “people are the ultimate spectacle” here. At least until their handful of observers get bored and indifferently pass them by in the car park.

Written by Bastian Günther, the German-US film was produced by Martin Heisler for Flare Film, in co-production with Green Elephant Films, Arte, Hessischer Rundfunk and Saarlandischer Rundfunk. Its international sales are handled by The Match Factory.

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