Freibad Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
A comedy that celebrates old-school German comedic movies, in tone and style. Sadly, Dörrie’s newest feature loses focus, by trying to be more than it is!
Director: Doris Dörrie
Cast: Andrea Sawatzki, Maria Happel, Nilam Farooq, Ilknur Boyraz, Melodie Wakivuamina, Nico Stank, Lisa Wagner, Julia Jendroßek & Samuel Schneider.
Run Time: 102 min.
US Release: N/A
UK Release: N/A
German Release: 01 September 2022
A new day, a new review, this time for the German comedy Freibad, released right at the end of summer. Honestly, this was not a film I was looking forward to. The trailers did not convince me, while the story was nothing that interested me. The beginning of September posed something of a dry spell in German cinemas, however, so I decided to give it a try especially since I don’t review that many German productions. So hold on to your pool noodles and float with me through this review for Freibad!
Best friends Gabi and Eva, have been visiting the sole women-only public pool in all of Germany, for thirty years. Frictions arise when different cultures clash within the vicinities of the open pool area. In the midst of it, are the two friends, watching and pulling strings.
The first thing that caught my attention, was that this flick reminded me a lot of Hanns Christian Müller’s 1988 satirical comedy Man Spricht Deutsch, starring Gerhard Polt. It focused on a German family, during their vacation in Italy, with a lot of the jests unravelling naturally due to cultural misunderstandings, plus misconceptions of specific clichés. Director-writer Doris Dörrie uses that formula for her script, giving it a distinctive 80s-era vibe, though forgets about the satirical note, thus many of the jokes fall flat. This was one of the unfunniest comedies I have seen this year!
The problem is that Dörrie is trying to create a bigger social satire than this ultimately is. Too many aspects start surfacing up; from racist profiling to body-shaming, feminism and the right to show female-bodily features, religious freedom, as well as the dangers of patriarchy. Every social criticism found these days online, is suddenly brought up on screen through shallow humour, or unfunny commentary. It goes as far as to undo any statements brought earlier, through lame jokes that hurt the initial message. If the director would have kept it as a satire of cultural misunderstandings, it would have had a greater impact and more laughs!
That said, the plot is tied up nicely at the end, even if a little conveniently rushed. The final message is appropriate to our times, which I welcomed, implying that tolerance starts not with how we treat others but how we treat ourselves. A topic that was constantly lingering in the background, as the two leads are in their mid-50s themselves.
The dialogues contain a lot of quips plus bickering among women. Especially when it comes to the two main characters, who discuss what it means to be tolerant and when democratic freedom is in danger. The humour is seldomly on point, while the squabble quickly bores.
The actresses and actors all do an amazing job at portraying their respective selves, be they lead or smaller roles. Sadly, it is how the personas are painted that cheapens them. Little to none are really approachable.
Andrea Sawatzki plays Eva, a former German pop singer and activist for women-rights during the 70s. Her fame long past, Eva is afraid of leading a lonely life, yet does everything to repel people around her. She doesn’t even shy away from criticising her best friend, who not understandably forgives her outburst. The former pop starlet is a mean character, who is course-corrected a little too late, by trying to draw her into a more sympathetic light. Sawatzki, on the other hand, gives a good rendition of the bodily free Eva!
Maria Happel portrays Gabi, Eva’s best friend and wife to a well-earning husband. Her commentary on an overweight customer in a bikini, is straight-out despicable, especially given the fact that she is not the slimmest person herself. Just like Eva, Gabi’s words sound more like those of an embittered older person, who realise that their best days are over, having missed potential chances in life.
Nilam Farooq as Yasemine is the most relatable character, yet like Eva, one of the least approachable. Due to her German-Turkish heritage plus upbringing, Yasemine is lost in her ways. Both cultures want her to integrate fully, which creates a personality conflict, as she feels like she belongs to both but also none of the two worlds. Yasemine herself is sadly portrayed as being arrogant and snippy towards others, which makes her a pretty unlikeable persona. Farooq, however, did a terrific acting job given the material she obtained.
The cinematography is the movie's greatest asset! Director of photography Hanno Lentz put a lot of effort into giving the finished product a vintage 80s look, which works to the setting's benefit. The summer feeling, as well as tropical ambience captured on screen, is well paired with the scenario of a German open-air pool, creating a light contrast of motives. The strong and brilliant colours emphasise the summery atmosphere, reminiscent of 80s / early 90s ice-cream adverts that ran on TV. For a German cinematic feature, it is gorgeously looking!
Effects-wise, there are little to none, mostly constrained on giving the background a sunny, summery look, as it was shot during one of the coldest summers in Germany. This was achieved successfully!
The music underlines the vintage atmosphere and summer plot, including cover songs of the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t it be Nice” or The Mamas & the Papas’ version of “Dream a Little Dream of Me”. The soundtrack was well implemented, serving its purpose.
Verdict: While Doris Dörrie’s script is skillfully handled and structured, she tries to cram way too much social commentary into it, nullifying any comedic aspects and rather bores the audience with the peoples’ nasty behaviours, as well as the constant bickering that is simply not funny! The final confrontation between the different groups of characters conveniently resolved any prior issues. Still, the happy ending is somewhat pleasurable! The problems surrounding the screenplay, are reflected again in the personas. Although well acted, most of the characters are unpleasant and right out despicable. This is especially true of the two leads, who come off as embittered old-hags. The cinematography and music are in the end the most enjoyable aspects of the film, infusing it with gorgeous summer feelings and an 80s vintage tone. In the end, Freibad is a disappointing comedy, deserving a 4.5 out of 10 for its stylish cinematography and accomplished cast.