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    Der Letzte macht das Licht aus! – East Berlin Hijinks

    By Eva-Marie Lenz | August 25, 2008

    The inspiration for Der Letzte macht das Licht aus! (The Last One Turns Out the Lights!) (Germany, 2007) came spontaneously when filmmaker Clemens Schönborn noticed near his Berlin flat a special language course: Norwegian for Unemployed in Building Trade Applying for Work Under Good Conditions in Land of Fjords. The men, whom Schönborn had become acquainted with while fetching his daily biscuits, have, in the meantime, long gone northwards.

    But their problems, bad luck and hard times, as well as their humor and anger, continued to absorb the director and motivated him to make his new feature film. The Last One Turns Out the Lights!, programmed on the opening night at the 2007 Achtung Berlin festival, throws light on how an altogether socially compatible solution can yet challenge an individual to the extreme. For, as shown in this film in all its comic facets, the heroes of unemployment are seen laboring away at a Norwegian language course.

    Here, the teacher Anne (Iren Reppen), a butterfly among bozos, while assiduously trying to instill a lust for learning and Scandinavian comfort, soon reaches the limits of her didactic tricks. Nevertheless, the language course proves of value as a kind of help-yourself therapy. Along the way, Silvio (Mario Irrek), Norbert (Jürgen Tarrach), and Micha (Wolfram Kock) become friends. Alternately, the film follows the paths of these three main figures, who in different ways are seeking the double-bliss of both work and love, thus doubly risking failure. A great passion held high amid misery, as in Wolfgang Becker’s Berlin film Das Leben ist eine Baustelle (Life Is All You Get) (1997), has no place here. Schönborn’s scenes dazzle between glib folly and whacky comedy, in which beaten-down guys long for close relationships while their femme partners think only of independence in case of doubt.

    So Silvio’s pretty masseuse backs away from the marriage office and congratulates him on his chance to finally broaden his horizons abroad but alone. And Norbert’s long-time wife flees out of their debt-ridden family house in order to lay hands on an apartment of her own and plan a new start far from Norway. The wiseacre Micha meets his match in a beauty, whose ambivalence Jenny Schily plays to the hilt with cool charm. At first, Ella scorns Micha as below her class, although she herself would rather work at a quick-lunch counter than being badly paid for writing news stories. With drive, Schörnborn fashions from grey reality partly a black comedy, partly a laconic drama, about mobility and reliable emotions. Are fights for survival and competitive skirmishes dominant everywhere? At the end, the film surprises with a friendly turn of events. That, too, is realistic. Not everything that can go wrong goes wrong.

    – Eva-Maria Lenz

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