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Free Berlin


Drifter (2023)

Who wants to be the 22-year-old that has their life completely figured out? While it is old news that a good way to revive a friend from an overdose is to shove a finger up their backside, it’s perhaps only in this pesky modern age that someone will flirtatiously ask for your Instagram details while you are trying to startle them back to consciousness. This is just one of the situations young Moritz (Lorenz Hochhuth) finds himself in after his life plans blow up in his face. On the other hand, he is 22, on his own in Berlin, with no responsibilities, such as having somewhere to live or paying for the electricity that charges his phone. If ever there’s a time in your life for overdoing things, that is it. And “Drifter” is a quietly curious depiction of all the fun one young man can handle.

Berlin makes it easy to chase one feeling after another, if you want. There’s always someone offering you a toot off their car keys before you make your way to another club. In the club there’s always someone charming to chat to and later stagger home with. Or not. It’s entirely up to you. Initially this is not what Moritz had in mind. He moved to Berlin to continue his clarinet studies and finally live with his boyfriend, Jonas (Gustav Schmidt). But when Jonas decides being in a relationship isn’t for him right now, Moritz goes exploring. An older projectionist, Noah (Cino Djavid), chats to Moritz outside a bar and later finds himself lending Moritz his clothes and taking him for walks in the woods. Jonas’s friends Ron (Alex Howard) and Anna (Rabea Egg) take Moritz to a club which has a shower room; everyone strips down to their underwear and lets the music and the running water permeate their bodies. Later Ron confides they are trying for a baby; still later Moritz calls round to find another friend, Stefan (Oscar Hoppe), tied up in the kitchen, as Ron laughs and explains the basics of B.D.S.M. There are poppers, ketamine, speed, cocaine. A couple – a Greek woman and a Russian man – approach Moritz in a bar and bring him back to theirs for a threesome. Later Eleftheria (Marie Tragousti) breaks up with the guy and moves in with an older woman, but she and Moritz still hang out and go dancing whenever they want. And tomorrow there will be something just as exciting, too.

Director Hannes Hirsch, who cowrote the script with River Matzke, is investigating that phase of early adulthood where the focus is on the body and its pleasures. The movie’s opening shot implies a sexual explicitness that the rest of the movie swerves from, but there’s no coyness or shame anywhere in the film. What Moritz is looking to discover and where he hopes to end up aren’t quite clear to him. At the moment he is content to react, and observe, and stick his fingers places as necessary, and consider. He's kind, friendly, quiet and cute, covered with interesting tattoos, so it’s no surprise people are happy to have him around. The pounding club soundtrack heightens the sensations Moritz is experiencing, and Elena Weihe’s editing focuses on letting the viewers come close and slowly enabling us to feel what Moritz is feeling. Whether that’s running his fingers over his shaved head or politely refusing some drugs pushed in his face in a crowded car, Mr. Hochhuth projects a calm, centered exterior that’s very compelling. Most of the other actors must rely on their bodies to do most of their acting for them, but that’s fine; this is Moritz’s journey and no one knows yet which of these people will prove to be important in the long run. It feels like a contradiction to say this is a thoughtful club movie, but it is not interested in the tawdry physical sensation as much as it’s wondering what it’s like to feel those tawdry physical sensations. And we’ve all been young, and pretty, and wondering just what the hell our life is going to add up to now we’re out on our own. It was an excellent choice for the closing gala of BFI Flare.


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