MAYBE... MAYBE NOT (DER BEWEGTE MANN) (Germany,1994) **
Given the huge historical role of pre-Nazi German cinema and, starting in the 1960s, the quality of the New or Young German cinema, it is amazing that German comedy has been so low on the international totem pole. There have been very few exceptions, and even then nothing that could place German comedy at a rocket's throw of American, U.K., Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Yugoslav, Czech, Hungarian, Irish, Senegalese, Australian, etc. comedies.
Now comes "Maybe..." which opened in Germany around September 1994, became a monster hit there, made locally a cult figure of its main actor Til Schweiger ... and took two years to cross the Atlantic. Will it finally break through the humor barrier for Germany?
The movie opens charmingly. In a cabaret, couples are dancing to songs of the 1920s and 1930s, including "Arme Gigolo." The sounds, style and ambiance almost fool you into thinking that the setting is way back when. Then comes the shock of modernization.
Axel, a hunk of a waiter, exchanges glances with a dancing woman.As soon as that song is over, the two of them are found in the toilet, copulating with energy. (Interesting how the other film I review this week, "Feeling Minnesota," has an almost identical scene at the start).
In the next cubicle, Doro, Axel's live-in girlfriend, hears the commotion, stands up on the seat and tells Axel, who has cheated on her repeatedly, that this is the end and that he's out of her apartment.
Seeking a temporary lodging, Axel fails repeatedly. His quest ends at a homosexual acquaintance's apartment during a bull-session of a gay study group discussing female sexuality.
Their talk is graphic, explicit, specific and detailed to an extent that I cannot recall from any other film. It also Teutonically serious, which, depending on your attitude, can make this funny, ludicrous or plain coarse. The movie is interspered with very frank language which includes a minute descripton of a gay man's one and only experience with a woman. The R-rating means a hard R, but on the other hand, there are no same-sex visuals anywhere.
Straight Axel becomes immediately the not-at-all-obscure object of the gays' desire. Doro, in revenge, tries to make out with a man, but cannot (an ugly scene where the man insults Doro). Axel is taken to a party of drag queens gotten up to the limit. He becomes everyone's dream-boy, takes everything in stride, is not especially shocked. On the contrary, he looks around amusedly but not ironically, even strikes a friendship with quiet, sweet and rather timid Norbert.
The party, like much of the film, is shot in those garish colors that German cinema often favors. Drunk by evening's end, Axel accepts Norbert's hospitality until he finds something. There is no sex between the two. When, the next morning, Norbert and his other apartment -mates are shown, it's a total transformation. In their business suits, and without any queer mannerisms, they are just ordinary citizens.
Axel's peregrinations continue while Doro finds out she is pregnant by Axel and won't have any of her co-workers advice to get rid of the baby. Axel and Norbert go to pick up Axel's stuff from Doro's apartment. In an intricate way that cannot be described simply, the two men find themselves respectively semi-naked and fully naked. Doro's impromptu return (how dumb can the man be?) panics the new friends. Discovering Norbert in a closet and in his birthday suit, she concludes the inevitable. Yet, what with Axel's fumbled protests, the nagging doubt remains. Is he bisexual, gay or straight? Maybe... maybe not.
This theme is carried to the end. The comics that are the source of the film had a gay point of view. The movie changed this into making Axel a straight who gets embroiled in a sexual farce. In the hard-to- translate German title, "bewegt" means "moved," as when someone crosses and recrosses the boundary between straight and gay.
The plot thickens in classic bedroom-farce fashion, with coincidences, confusions and quid pro quos that we accept willingly. It leads to a reconciliation and to the wedding of Axel and 9-month pregnant Doro. New complications arise when Axel and former high school lover Elke meet and make a date that eventually moves to Norbert's apartment. Axel pretends it is his but says things like "The bathroom? It is over there -- I think."
More farce involves vegetarian Norbert's new companion, a butcher who justifies the saying "Never ask how sausage is made," and other inventions. Predictably, the birth of the child (with additional comic mix-ups), brings a happy ending.
The movie has a valid subject, the possibility of friendship between straights and gays. It also deals in almost documentary, wild but sympathetic fashion, with gay life, treated with relative naturalness. But the story-line is uneven and meandering, the humor is adolescent bathroom stuff. The new darling of the German masses, Til Schweiger, as Axel is pretty much of a dimwit stud.
The movie lacks anything approaching subtlety. Acting, situations and most characters are broad, done bluntly and heavily. Where calming pauses are needed, we get near-hysteria. Where mood would do, we get a mysterious sexual spray. Where wit is called for, we get a mix of lead and concrete. Whether all this is compensated by a number of laughs and insights is for each viewer to decide.