There has never been a good narrative film that heavily featured table tennis. Michael Tully’s ‘Ping Pong Summer’? Meh. The Swedish ‘The King of Ping Pong’? It was okay. The Japanese manga adaptation ‘Ping Pong’? So-so. The Dan Fogler anti-comedy ‘Balls of Fury’? I may vomit. ‘Forrest Gump’? I’m not a fan.
Hollywood doesn't really make movies about table tennis. Maybe because it doesn’t have the visual grandiosity of other sports movies. Maybe the sport is just not as popular because of the lack of major stars. Maybe playing with small balls is a bit weird. Maybe all of the above! So, it’s with some surprise that I realised that Marku’s Goller’s comedy ’25 km/h’ not only features a few key scenes involving table tennis, but it was also an extremely enjoyable film.
At the funeral of their father, two brothers, Christian (Lars Eidinger, ‘Dumbo’, ‘High Life’) and Georg (Bjarne Mädel), see each other again for the first time in decades. Georg remained in their Black Forest hometown of Löchingen to care for their ailing father, work as a cabinetmaker, and pine over his childhood sweetheart Tanja. Christian, on the other hand, is a successful businessman and widely-travelled playboy, currently living in Singapore. When the two first set eyes on each other again, a graveside brawl quickly ensues. Things simmer down, although Georg is still nonplussed with his long-absent and irresponsible brother. But with alcohol and, yes, table tennis, the brothers bond again and reminisce over a trip across Germany they had intended to embark upon as a fifteen-year-olds.
The itinerary involves a series of “carpe diem” tasks, including eating everything on the menu at a Greek restaurant, sleeping with women, taking drugs, overturning a sleeping cow, and peeing into the sea at Timmendorfer Strand. Still drunk and wearing their funeral suits, the brothers dig out two ancient mopeds from the barn and slowly (the old vehicles have a maximum speed of 25 km/h) putter out of Löchinger Dorfbrunnen. On the journey across Germany, they repeatedly quarrel while fulfilling the tasks on the list, often more by accident than intent.
‘25 km/h’ is the latest collaboration between Markus Goller and Oliver Ziegenbalg following ‘Friendship!’ (the most financially successful German film of 2010), and they have created another extremely enjoyable mix of thoughtful profundity and wispy lightness. Sure, the film is predictable and has a few dumb takes (you’ll be pondering the way it portrays things like an absentee father’s visitation rights after the film ends). However, it’s impossible to resist the charm offensive of a strong cast and a script laced with life truisms that will move you in one way or another, whether it be a smile, a sigh, a tear, or a laugh.
It’s impossible to resist the charm offensive of a strong cast and a script laced with life truisms that will move you in one way or another, whether it be a smile, a sigh, a tear, or a laugh.
The standout actor is Eidinger, whose role impressively shifts from charming, amusing, selfish and tragic. Mädel has less to do but is effective as his stoic foil. The two are backed up by a talented supporting cast of German actors in small roles, like Sandra Hüller, Franka Potente, Alexandra Maria Lara, Jella Haase and Wotan Wilke Möhring.
The light mood of the film is buoyed by its music (featuring tunes by bands like T.Rex, Yo La Tengo and The Cure) selected by Andrej Melita and Peter Horn, who were inspired by the soundtrack of the dramedy ‘St. Vincent’.
The postcard-perfect cinematography beautifully shows off and contrasts locations like Baden-Württemberg, North Rhine-Westphalia, Schleswig-Holstein, Berlin and Brandenburg. From wide open fields and lush forests through to cosmopolitan Berlin, it’s pure tourism porn.
If you’re a fan of unpretentious odd-couple comedies and Weihenstephan Hefe Weissbier, ‘25 km/h’ comes highly recommended.