Goodbye Berlin (Tschick)

Germany (2016) Dir. Fatih Akin

It probably started with Ferris Bueller and his infamous day off – teenagers escaping their school lives to have the adventure of a life time. The difference is Ferris was too cool for school while those who followed in his wake were the outliers of their class, such as the protagonists in this adaptation of the novel Tschick by Wolfgang Herrndorf.

14 year-old Maik (Tristan Gobel), nicknamed “Psycho” by his classmates, is hopelessly in love with the class princess Tatjana (Aniya Wendel) who barely registers his existence. With Tatjana’s birthday party approaching, Maik is distraught to have been omitted from the invite list, but neither has new transfer student and fellow pariah Andrej ‘Tschick’ Tschichatschow (Anand Batbileg).

Realising the common bond in being excluded by the others, Tschick turns up at Maik’s house – where he has been left alone or the summer holidays by his father while his mother is in rehab – with an old Lada Niva he has “borrowed”. First, they drop by Tatjana’s party to then head off for a drive across Germany, leaving Berlin behind to visit Walachia.

Fatih Akin might be mostly known for his skilfully intertwining, multi-location drama The Edge Of Heaven so this switch to vibrant coming-of-age comedy drama might seem like a bit of gamble on his part. Yet Akin is able to retain his keen eye for conveying the tangible nuances of life we can all relate to, no matter how outlandish the premise of the story may be.

There are signs that the teenage joy riders in this tale are perhaps a little to resourceful and canny for life on the road than your average 14 year-old, making a significant leap from playing video games to driving a stolen car without missing a beat. Then again, Tschick comes from a small German speaking area of Russia, calling himself a “German Gypsy” and carrying in his school bag (a plastic supermarket bag) a bottle of vodka.

His scruffy Hawaiian shirt, shoes held together by tape, hairstyle stolen from young Daigoro Ogami from Lone Wolf & Cub (Anand Batbileg is of Mongolian descent), insular attitude and vomiting over the desks puts him in the same outsider group with Maik. Tschick doesn’t really give two hoots about the others’ opinion of him, and infamy is abounding when he manages to silence a bully by whispering something in his ear.

Maik meanwhile is far more sensitive, dreaming of catching Tatjana’s attention whilst lamenting his lowly social status. To win Tatjana over her draws a pencil portrait of her as her birthday present until the deliberate lack of invite to her party is received like a kick in the nuts. It also doesn’t help that his tennis playing mother (Anja Schneider) is an alcoholic and his father (Uwe Bohm) is a businessman too busy with his sexy young secretary Mona (Xenia Assenza).

All the ingredients are there for a classic road trip yarn and to some extent, this is what we get. I can’t comment on the differences between the film and the novel but with this clocking in at just under 90-minutes, the saga comes to a disappointingly abrupt end when it seems our two outcasts were on the cusp of a life changing realisation.

Not that the journey was not without moments that forced the lads to think on their feet and adapt to their surroundings to survive – such as having lunch with a family in a remote village who ask Harry Potter questions to earn their dessert, or Maik stealing the bicycle from the local policeman when he chases off minor Tschick who he spies driving the car.

Thought not hilariously funny, the antics on the road have a charm to them a carefully scripted comedy of errors would lack because they are based in reality. For example, being in a stolen car the only entertainment they can find is an old cassette of French pianist Richard Clayderman, which they find themselves enjoying (maybe ironically, who knows?).

Similarly, while they are prepared with sleeping bags, medical kits and other sensible apparatus, Tschick brings tins of baked beans with no can opener, and Maik has frozen pizzas but no oven! The camaraderie is such that they can laugh about such stupidity and not get ratty with each other, so no forced splitting up and sentimental reunion for these two, they are in it together to the end – well almost.

One conventional development is the addition to the story of Isa (Nicole Mercedes Müller). In her late teens and hoping to visit her sister in Prague, it seems Isa might upset the established dynamic by flirting with Maik. A faint scent of Y Tu Mamá También wafts into the picture but this predictable path is not chosen, instead opting to leave us guessing what might have been.

Isa is one of the more curious characters, her story and personality never developed being another traditional road trip plot point to cross off the list. With the brief runtime this applies to all of the cast with only Maik being the most fleshed out, partly through being something of an archetype. Even Tschick is shrouded in mystery but, even for a 14 year-old, he is enigmatic enough to warm to, though his backstory is begging to be told.

Akin capably captures the youthful spirit of the teenage runaways and the hazy, summer days of youthful exuberance, supported by the evocative photography of Germany’s plush countryside. The two leads develop a convincing and endearing chemistry between them; Tristan Gobel’s introverted emoting neatly playing off the edgy charisma of Anand Batbileg in his debut role.

Goodbye Berlin doesn’t break too many of the road trip movie moulds, but adds enough of a fresh perspective and warm naturalism to make this a breezy and eventful journey to follow. It is a shame it is so short, there was still plenty of mileage left to it, but so much fun while it lasted.