Migrant and Diasporic Cinema in Contemporary Europe

Migrant and Diasporic Cinema in Contemporary Europe

Der Lebensversicherer (Running on Empty)

Bülent Akinci(2006)


Genre: Drama, Road Movie
Language: German

A traveling insurance salesman pulls off the road when he meets a lonely B&B owner in "Running on Empty," an atmospheric slice of Teutonic anomie which reps the poised and promising feature debut of shorts helmer Buelent Akinci. Offbeat humor tempers the film's melancholy, while a creepy, affecting lead perf by rising thesp Jens Harzer (also in Hans-Christian Schmid's "Requiem") adds luster. Although well-received at this year's Berlinale and winner of its section's top prize, pic's cool-running engine will need to get critical gas in its tank and marketing superinjections to power it in offshore territories. Burkhard Wagner (Harzer), a door-to-door insurance peddler, literally lives in his Volvo, clocking endless miles on characterless stretches of the Autobahn. Despite his maniacal laugh and a manner suggestive of someone a couple pistons short of a V-8, he gains trust of clients well enough to get them to sign on the dotted line. Part of his peculiar sales pitch is to sing along to French pop songs, a surrealistic, whimsical touch that nevertheless has a storyline payoff.Oddly unequipped with a cellphone, Wagner pulls over at phone booths between sales to leave messages for his wife at home, promising he'll come back to her and their child as soon as he's made enough in commissions. At a roadside cafe, he takes an interest in Caroline (long-faced newcomer Marina Galic), who happens to be sitting at the table where he met his wife years earlier. After stalking her a few times back to her motel and a visit from her to his car, Wagner accepts her offer to stay at her pension just off the freeway. Hints are soon dropped that there's more between Wagner and Caroline than meets the eye, although writer-helmer Akinci refuses to spell out with absolute clarity what's going on. Final scenes point strongly in one direction. Unsettling editing may lead some viewers to read more "Mulholland Dr."-style ambiguity into the material than the script intends. Occasional lines ring slightly too portentously, such as "If you don't know what to live for, you don't know what to die for," but the excellent thesp ensemble carry the filmmakers' tune well enough to smooth over potentially duff notes.Pic's press notes vaguely mention '70s French cinema as an influence, while others might sniff a tang of Atom Egoyan's earlier films, especially given Wagner's insurance racket occupation, which recalls "The Adjuster" (1991). But the pic retains a distinctly European flavor, paradoxically embedded in its anonymous looking sets and locations. A larger sociological subtext about contempo economic hardship in a reunified Germany and alienation is not overemphasized.Ominous score by Wim Mertens and umbral lighting by Henner Besuch rep powerful contributions to the pic's general sense of unease. Rest of the tech package is pro. For the record, the pic's original German title literally means "the life insurer."

(Source: Variety, 21 February 2006) 

Posted by Daniela Berghahn on 29 Apr 2008 • Discuss this Film

Last edited: 29 04 2008 - Designed by PageToScreen