Starts October 10, 2013
Directed by: Gregor Schnitzler
Writing credits: Kathrin Richter, Jürgen Schlagenhof (screenplay), Juli Zeh (book)
Cast: Maximilian Brückner, Jannik Schümann, Michelle Barthel
Length: 102 minutes
“People who don’t think they are right, are dangerous, people who act nonetheless, very dangerous”, says 15-year-old Ada (Barthel). She is an intellectual overachiever who just skipped two grades when she entered the prestigious private international school Ernst-Bloch-Gymnasium. Inside and out, she feels more connected to Sartre’s existentialism than to her fellow students who are Gucci and Prada slaves. So what to make of the new guy? Eighteen-year-old Alev (Schümann) is very sharp-minded, but also gorgeous, Mephistophelian and a dandy. Reluctantly, Ada allows herself to be fascinated by Alev who challenges her boundaries with his unconventionality: he takes her to his regular BDSM-themed strip club and flirts with her although he claims to be impotent. Soon he tells her that life is a game to him and most people pawns in it. His own maxim, however, is “know thyself”, which is why he suggests a little experiment to Ada. He wants her to sleep with their “goody two-shoes” teacher Smutek (Maximilian Brückner), whose wife Ada recently saved from committing suicide on a class trip, while he, Alev, would capture everything on film. Ada agrees since she has long fallen for Alev. But what exactly does Alev gain from this bargain?
Spieltrieb is a coming-of-age-story. At first, it looked like the classic tale: popular and rich guy/Byronic hero falls in love with a not-so-pretty and poor social outcast. But this movie is far from romantic; in fact, it was hard to find any romantic love in it. Instead, you will find a drama/thriller evolving around obsession and questions of morality. Alev is a master manipulator and impotent not only in bed, but in all things that really matter. Ada still needs to decide what kind of freedom she is entitled to due to her superior intellect. Smutek, on the other hand, is forced to face his own dark desires.
The producers themselves compared this movie to the film Cruel Intentions, a comparison that had also crossed my mind. However, I like Spieltrieb a lot better. First, the movie captured the atmosphere at a bourgeois German Gymnasium well: the knowledge of being socially and intellectually privileged and the dismissal of opportunities at the same time in favor of drinking and smoking. I was glad the makers of the movie did not try to imitate the feel of an American high school. Second, the actors playing Ada and Alev were amazingly charismatic and skilled. Third, despite some elements being “cliché”, such as the notion of most rebellious teenagers that they are the first ones to own the world and the old wisdom that brilliancy does not compensate any lack of heart, this movie sounded true to me. After all, the fact of something being cliché unfortunately does not mean it can’t be true. Actually, Spieltrieb strongly reminded me of my own upper school experience. Even my best friend back then had a lot in common with Alev. Fourth, I liked the fact that this movie does not spare feelings. It doesn’t only hint at inappropriate things, it shows them. This movie was made for an audience “14 years +” and has received a rating as being of special educational value. In this regard, I think it is wise to consider cultural differences. I am pretty sure this movie would have been rated “R” in the United States. There is a lot of explicit content: nudity, sex, a defloration with a dildo, porn and drug abuse among others. I would have given this movie five stars had it shown more solutions, rather than just telling a moral tale. ( )