Vergiss Amerika (Forget America, 2000) begins with the very last scene—which seems annoying at first, as you already know what is going to happen. What is interesting, however, is that only when the film ends does one realise what is going through the minds of the characters as their cars travel downhill at breakneck speed. As the film reaches its conclusion, one has the sudden revelation that the first scene is not what it initially seemed.
Every other film to come out of Germany at the moment deals, in some way or another, with the various problems resulting from reunification or is shot in East Germany in an almost voyeuristic manner. The link to these issues is always (albeit mostly indirectly) alluded to in the publicity blurb for productions.
In the case of Vergiss Amerika, the film is introduced as a "Coming of age in eastern Germany" story. But when you watch the film, you realise that what makes it so appealing is, actually, that it is set in "Hickesville, anywhere in the world"; even the bridge from which the lead characters dive to swim in the river looks like it could equally well be found somewhere in Middle America.
It is the universality of this story about youth, yearning and shattered dreams (and the delicate way in which the characters and plot lines are handled) that pulls you in to watch it; the fact that the action takes place in East Germany is almost irrelevant.
Marek Harloff (who plays David, the guy who does not get the girl) is truly a talent to watch out for: his screen presence is mesmerising. The pain he experiences in his unrequited love for Anna (Franziska Petri) is palpable. Although Harloff "does" very little on screen, every movement, every look contributes to how much the audience roots for David. With actors like these in German cinema, who needs Hollywood!
The plot and script of Vergiss Amerika are equally excellent. Although based on an old theme—new girl arrives in a small boring town and tests the friendship of two local boys—the director, Vanessa Jopp, handles it with real originality and a lack of cynicism. Whenever you think you can predict the outcome of a situation, she inserts an unpredictable twist.
Jopp shows that you need none of the following to make an excellently entertaining film: a large budget, a famous cast, glamorous locations or an unconventional plot. What makes her film work is a cast who genuinely interact well with each other and a plot that is both witty and sad and truly about relationships between real people.
The end result, with its underlying message to "reach for the stars and follow your dreams," does not seem remotely banal. In fact, it is surprisingly refreshing.
Elke de Wit, 4 June 2001
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