The delightful comedy Vincent Wants To Sea (a.k.a. Vincent will Meer) must have pulled an upset when it won Germany's top film honor, the Deutscher Filmpreis, as that nation's best feature film of 2010. Unlike previous winners such as The White Ribbon (2009) or The Lives of Others (2006), this film doesn't concern itself with heavy themes, historic trappings, or even complex characters. I'd imagine the closest comparison to Vincent winning this award would be if Little Miss Sunshine took home the Best Picture Academy Award the year it was nominated. Which is totally appropriate, since Vincent is also an intelligently made road movie in which a band of quirky characters find themselves.
The film revolves around its title character, an awkward young man whose Tourette's syndrome causes him to randomly spout obscenities (he's wonderfully played by Florian David Fitz, who also wrote the screenplay). At film's open, Vincent's mother just passed away and his politician father, Mr. Gellner (Heino Firch), decides to enroll him in a local institution to help cure him of his affliction. The institution's stern supervisor, Dr. Rose (Katharina Müller-Elmau) welcomes Vincent to the facility, even though she is highly skeptical that his father dumped him there strictly because he wasn't committed to helping the young man out himself. She introduces Vincent to his new roommate, Alexander (Johannes Allmayer), a fussy guy with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Another resident, a young woman with an eating disorder named Marie (Karoline Herfurth), takes on an immediate fascination with Vincent and shows him the lay of the place.
Vincent is the kind of film where all of the characters are restlessly searching for something that they often are unable to articulate. In Vincent's case, he is consumed by his desire to take his mother's ashes to the Italian seaside village where she originally honeymooned with his dad. An opportunity presents itself on night when Marie decides to steal Dr. Rose's car. The two take off on a cross-country thrill ride with Alexander in tow (since he threatened to expose their misdeed, he becomes an abrasive and often funny third wheel in the journey). When Dr. Rose finds out about the theft the next day, she notifies Mr. Gellner and the two take off on their own pursuit. Eventually they catch up to and confront the fleeing youths, but Vincent finds a way to commandeer his dad's luxury car. This leaves Mr. Gellner and Dr. Rose with her beat-up jalopy, where circumstances leave them stranded and doubting their own abilities, his as a parent and hers as an authoritative figure that will steer her patients right.
Vincent Wants To Sea is given smooth direction (by Ralf Huettner) with a compelling story that makes good use of the awe-inspiring countryside throughout Germany and Italy. What really makes it sing, however, is the engaging characters and how they interact with each other. Although Florian David Fitz delivers an adorable, multi-faceted performance as Vincent (it also garnered him a Deutscher Filmpreis award for Best Actor), his true achievement here lies in screenwriting a story that works even when it appears that it might delve into Hallmark card-style simplicities. Even a fellow like Alexander, who sounds like a cliché-ridden bundle of neuroses on paper, is given a nuanced reading by actor Johannes Allmayer (he might remind some Americans of Dwight from The Office). Actually, all of the principal performers deliver some excellent work here. If there's a flaw, it might be that the patients would have been more realistically done if they were played by actors in their teens. Since Fitz, Allmayer and Herfuth all appear to be pushing 30, it doesn't make too much sense why they'd be so tied to the asylum (they aren't afflicted with serious conditions, after all). Also, a nitpick: Vincent's coveted snapshot of his mom, a prop integral to the film's story, looks like a bad Photoshop job.
Minute flaws aside, Vincent Wants To Sea is a fantastic slice-of-life comedic drama that is assuredly worth checking out.
Corinth Film's DVD edition of Vincent Wants To Sea is presented in a slightly windowboxed 16x9 format enhanced for widescreen televisions. The picture quality looks good, with a special mention for its richly saturated yet not overpowering color.
Vincent's German-language soundtrack is presented in a full, pleasing sounding Dolby digital stereo track on disc. The film makes use of a handful of uplifting pop songs (sung in English, strangely), which are mixed in with dialogue portions in a pleasing and not too aggressive manner.
Although the packaging on this DVD trumpets this as a Special Edition, the only extras are a theatrical trailer and a brief photo gallery containing a few candid behind-the-scenes shots. A commentary with actor Florian David Fitz (astonishingly, this was his first screenplay) would have been nice.
Buoyed by winning performances and an engaging story of misfits on the run, Vincent Wants To Sea is a good example of mainstream European cinema firing on all cylinders. Fans of Little Miss Sunshine-eque quirky comedy with unexpectedly touching moments would especially dig this one. Highly Recommended.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist, film critic and dilettante-of-all-trades in Phoenix, Arizona. 4 Color Cowboy is his repository of Western-kitsch imagery, while other films he's seen are logged at Letterboxd. He also welcomes friends on Twitter @4colorcowboy.