Vincent (Florian David Fitz) suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome and has been placed in an institution by his politician father, Robert Gellner (Heino Ferch). His mother has just passed away and Vincent wants to honour her wish by taking her ashes to the seaside. It’s an impossible task under the circumstances, but Vincent is determined and escapes from the clinic in a stolen car. With anorexic Marie (Karoline Herfurth) and obsessive-compulsive Alex (Johannes Allmayer) along for the ride, he heads toward the Italian coast.
FESTIVAL OF GERMAN FILMS: Films that focus on people with physical or intellectual difficulties can be challenging but this road movie about three patients who escape from a psychiatric clinic is blackly funny, dramatically satisfying and quite moving.
Full credit to Florian David Fitz, who plays the lead character, Vincent, and wrote the screenplay, his first, and to the sensitive handling of the subject by veteran director Ralf Huettner.
Australian distributor Umbrella Entertainment is giving the movie, which was a box-office hit in its native Germany, a theatrical release in late April or early May; it’s well worth catching.
Vincent is 27 and is afflicted with Tourette’s syndrome. The opening sequence flags the filmmakers’ bold intentions as Vincent disrupts his mother’s funeral, shouting 'pussy licking" and 'ass" before storming out of the church to continue a stream of invective.
His father Robert (Heino Ferch), a domineering, high-powered politician with zero skills in diplomacy, who has neglected his son, sends him to a clinic run by the brisk, no-nonsense Dr. Rose (Katharina Müller-Elmau). Vincent is told there’s no cure for his condition but if he learns how to modify his behaviour he can control his tic. That prospect cheers him as he’d be able to finish high school and maybe go to college.
He’s forced to share a room with the rude, hostile Alex (Johannes Allmayer), who has obsessive compulsive disorder and an anger-management problem. Vincent is befriended by Marie (Karoline Herfurth), a troubled young woman who has anorexia and a heart condition from years of malnutrition. 'It looks ugly when people eat," she says matter-of-factly.
On a whim, Vincent and Marie decide to 'borrow’ Dr. Rose’s car and head to Italy, where Vincent’s mother was happy, and Alex tags along, reluctantly initially. Vincent carries his mum’s ashes in a canister and wants to scatter them in the sea. At a petrol station his credit card is declined, it appears they have almost no money and they take off without paying.
The clinic is alerted and Dr. Rose and Robert set off together in an often comical pursuit. The therapist is caring and compassionate but smokes heavily and has her own hang-ups. The actors mine plenty of laughs from Vincent swearing intentionally, as when he calls Alex a 'twat," the prickly relationship and banter between Dr. Rose and Robert, Alex conducting an imaginary orchestra playing his beloved Bach, and, cruel as it sounds, Marie’s eating disorder.
For a while, the trio’s adventures on the road act as a kind of mutual therapy as Marie starts to eat, Alex calms down, Vincent loses his tic and he enjoys some tender moments with Marie. However, the tone darkens in the final reel and there are no miraculous cures, although the ending is upbeat.
Huettner strikes the perfect balance between drama and comedy without exploiting the characters’ psychological problems and foibles or veering into maudlin territory. A minor criticism: The soundtrack is peppered with several bland pop tunes which detract from, rather than enhance, the mood.
Fitz was inspired to write the screenplay after meeting a drama teacher who had Tourette’s while he was studying at the Boston Conservatory in the 1990s. He is completely convincing as a man who’s determined to not allow his disorder to prevent him from achieving happiness, and he has some wonderful scenes with Herfurth and Allmayer. Ferch and Müller-Elmau are similarly impressive in their interaction.
As the movie eloquently demonstrates, almost everyone experiences pain and fear at some time, not just those with Tourette’s, OCD and anorexia.