Back in the 1970's it seemed unthinkable to release a German film in the United States that was made all for laughs. Such directors as Wim Wenders, Ranier Werner Fassbinder and Werner Herzog made German films into the serious dramatic art form. But within the last few years with such films as Run Lola Run and Our Desert Island show that the German film industry has lightened up.
I'm not sure it's for the better. Advertising Rules! (aka Viktor Vogel: Commercial Man) is a lukewarm German comedy about a goofy young man who gets caught up in the ruthless and absurd world of advertising. Viktor Vogel (played by newcomer Alexander Scheer) is a lanky young man who wakes up one day and decides to delicately force his way into an ad agency. With a bit of dumb luck he not only gets into a pitch meeting but he turns the head of a big executive and gets himself hired.
The agency at first simply uses him for a big pitch but he is such an original and strange character that he ends up pulling all the strings. And before they know what's hit them he virtually has the agency on their knees in support of his peculiar personality and crazy ideas.
But, of course, some kind of conflict has to present itself and this film has a couple good (if not predictable) ones. First, Viktor is in a position where he is compelled to become the partner of Eddie Kaminsky (Gotz George) the most successful Advertising Director the agency had ever had. And Eddie isn't too glad to be spending time with Viktor – whom he refers to as a 'sewer rat'.
Second, Viktor has stolen his great agency-saving idea from Rosa (Chulpan Khamatova) his new found artistic girlfriend, who is such a cute, sweet thing it kills him to betray her trust. But – under heavy pressure – he does anyway because the world of advertising expects nothing less.
In time everyone begins to get along very well and then in the third act it all comes crashing down. Viktor learns some hard lessons about lying and betrayal and the only thing the film seems to ask is when will he finally see how crooked the advertising world is, clear his conscience and set everything straight. It's a testament to the film that he doesn't solve everything too neatly. Or at least not in the way that we would expect from such a light comedy.
The performances are all quite good. Newcomer Scheer hams it up a lot (maybe too much) and the older actor George provides a good balance to the whole affair. Unfortunately, the direction by Lars Kraume is a bit flat. Many scenes, which should otherwise be very funny, come across as mildly amusing or annoying. And too the film's message about the corrupt lure of advertising and the nature of lying is never fully worked out. In short, the film is no where as good or interesting as a Herzog, a Fassbinder of a Wenders film but -- for a 108 minutes -- it is a fair entertainment.
The disc features 5.1 Dolby German track, which sounds very good – especially when the musical score kicks in – which isn't often enough. The sound resonates well and all the speaking parts sound fine. There is also a French language track, which is poorly dubbed but sounds good.
The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and looks excellent. The colors are rich in some of the indoor and outdoor scenes. The film takes place mainly indoors under corporate environs with fluorescent lighting, which provides a bluish tinge. The cinematography is bright and clean. The transfer seems to be from a good print although there are some detectable scratches at the reel changes. There is very little edge enhancement and no compression artifact detectable.
The irony of this Columbia Tri-Star foreign language disc is that there are more extras on this than on almost any non-Criterion foreign language film DVD I can think of. The best extras are the seven Deleted Scenes that total about 20 minutes of extra footage. Most of them are redundant or not too revealing but if you like the movie they are worth checking out. There are also Alternative scenes including one of the more enjoyable scenes when the three main characters go to the beach for a day. Included in this extra too is an alternative opening scene, which is slightly better than what they chose and an alternative ending, which is completely different and very much like a Hollywood ending. The most interesting extra is a twelve minute Interview Collage, which – oddly enough – is just extra takes from the film in which the characters stop acting and look into the camera and start talking about what their definition of art is. The screen that precedes it notes that this particular extra was made by the Performance Artist Christian Jankowsky who is the creator of the commercials that are shown within the film. The back of the disc mentions that there is a making-of Featurette but I was unable to find it. There are also filmographies a choice of seven subtitles and two language tracks and one theatrical trailer. The disc has 20 animated chapters.
Advertising Rules! is a decent comedy about a young man who enters the cold hard world of advertising and finds that-- despite the fact that it screws up his love life -- he likes it. The film is mostly set up for laughs, although there are some sentimental scenes but it doesn't present anything new in form of plot-line or visual style. However, the DVD quality is excellent in all departments and the film is worth a look if you like German-TV type comedy. On a side note: If you want to get an idea of the kind of film this would be if it were made by Hollywood (which may become a possibility) then just imagine the same plot scenario and plug in any Saturday Night Live star you like.