Berlinale 2019: Stylish Dark Comedy 'O Beautiful Night' from Germany
by Alex Billington
February 16, 2019
One of the most fascinating discoveries of the Berlin Film Festival this year is a German dark comedy titled O Beautiful Night, which is the feature directorial debut of a German animator and/or filmmaker named Xaver Böhm. This stylish, neon-drench indie is about a lonely, nihilistic kid named Juri who is greeted by a guy who identifies himself as Death - a spiny, chain-smoking, crack-head with a tiny scythe necklace who first encounters Juri inside one of those smoky automated casino joints (which are all around Germany). He takes him on a late night adventure around town, stopping to get drugs, win money, and finally to get drinks at a bar. It's actually a cool concept for a film - not necessarily that original, but nicely refreshed this time.
O Beautiful Night takes place in a nondescript German city, though it's obviously shot in and set around Berlin (at night without many people around). The entire film is lit with neon lights and color gels, making it feel very dreamy and surreal. Noah Saavedra plays Juri, who is the typical kid who has nothing to live for, and just wants to die but also fears death. The best performance that totally makes the film is that of Marko Mandic, who plays Death (or "Der Tod"), a hilarious wise ass who is entirely confident in his devilish ways, but also totally loves to indulge in the dangerous vices that only Death himself can truly appreciate (without worrying how bad it all is for him, of course). He's sadistic but also wise, or at least trying to be wise enough in a tough-love way for Juri to learn some lessons about life - while he's still alive. It doesn't always work.
The film takes a bit to get going at the start, but once it does get comfortable with its conceit it's consistently entertaining. It's quite a bit of fun - with some good laughs and clever scenes. The script isn't the strongest, but the performances (and style) make up for it. Along with a sumptuous, moody melodic score from Xaver Böhm & Paul Eisenach. Which is topped off by some excellent song choices scattered throughout that really make this feel like an enigmatic German film. I enjoyed much of the film, but not all of it. They clearly had a very tiny budget, which limited Böhm's ability to fully realize his vision for this. Often times it feels particularly amateurish in the staging and set design, despite the lighting and atmosphere being so vibrant. Give him a bigger budget with a better crew, and Böhm might be able to deliver something truly awesome.
The biggest problem with O Beautiful Night is that it has a terrible ending that comes close to spoiling the rest of it. In fact, there isn't even an ending. It's going along, getting good, then just stops. Someone needed to tell Böhm before they even started filming that he should go back and come up with a smarter, better way to end this since it's otherwise a great idea overall. That said, I don't want to be too harsh on this film. It's so much fun and I like so much about it, and I think Böhm has great potential as a filmmaker. But this film is not the most polished - and that's okay. It'll end up with a cult following, and Mandic deserves recognition for his iconic performance as Death. I hope it launches Böhm's career so he can go on to make better films.
Alex's Berlinale 2019 Rating: 6 out of 10
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