This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2017.
Tschick is a charming, if disorganised and overly episodic, coming of age road movie.
The basic set-up of Tschick is effective, if a little familiar. Maik Klingenberg is an imaginative and socially awkward teenager, the child of an alcoholic (if well-meaning) mother and a distant (and philandering) father. He is invisible to his classmates, except to the eponymous Tschick. Andrej Tschichatschow is a new arrival from Russia. He is antisocial, he smells bad, and he suffers from alcoholism despite only being a teenager. Naturally, he proves even less popular than Maik. The other students don’t know Maik exists, but they hate Tschick.
With his mother checked into rehab and his father absent for other reasons, Maik is left to fend for himself. He ends up embarking upon a cross-country road trip with Tchick in a stolen car. Along the way, the pair have a series of encounters with a wide variety of people and intersect with various other walks of life. As a result, Maik and Tschick have a unique shared experience, forging a deep bond and a mutual respect. The resulting journey is full of wry well-observed comedy and heart-warming moments, largely held together by the charm of leads Tristan Göbel and Anand Batbileg.
However, Tschick lacks the focus necessary to tie these elements together. It is both too focused on its own narrative and character arcs to fully embrace a stream-of-consciousness “on the road” travelogue style and too episodic to cohere into a single strong narrative. The result is a film that feels rather uneven and disjointed, a road trip constantly hitting speed bumps.
There is a sense that Tschick is never entirely sure what it wants to be and how exactly it wants to be about it. The film works best in its lighter and more surreal moments, capturing the sense of two young teenagers wandering through Europe on a journey of discovery. These small moments of absurdity help to create a sense of two boy lost in the wilderness, whether it’s the upper-class “mobile nobles” who bicycle and picnic through the countryside or a family that rations out desert through an after-dinner quiz round, these beats capture a sense of ethereal weirdness.
At times, Tschick takes on an effective dream-like quality. After all, the film opens with a dual carriageway overrun with pigs escaped from an overturned lorry, before jumping back in time to explain that image. At several points in the film, director Fatih Akin untethers the film from reality to embrace Maik’s childlike imagination. He literally glides across the room to meet his crush, he imagines gunning down his absentee father in teenage frustration, he holds entire imaginary conversations. Coupled with the other strange little details, there’s a palpable sense of unreality to Tschick.
However, Tschick struggles with its tone. These dream segues happen inconsistently across the movie’s run-time. While they blend quite well with the quirkier diversions and distractions of this adventure, they stand in sharp contrast to some of the darker and heavier moments suggested by the film’s plot. Tschick offers a very colourful and joyful examination of teenage wanderlust, but it also repeatedly hints at various darker realities. Tschick is suggested to be living with alcoholism. At one point they meet Isa, a starving teenage girl living in a dump.
Tschick never really delves into any of this. This is not to suggest that these characters need to resolved these issues or even come to terms with them over the course of a roadtrip. Indeed, such resolutions can often seem trite or manipulative. However, there is a sense that Tschick never really invests in these elements as heavily as it needs to. Indeed, Tschick’s alcoholism is seemingly resolved when Maik throws a bottle of booze out of the car window in retaliation for the breaking of a phone. Isa’s woes are resolved with the loan of thirty euro.
It all feels very convenient, with these profound personal dysfunctions serving as minor distractions for the road trip at hand. As with the film’s brief flirtations with surrealism and abstraction, Tschick allows its attention to wander too widely and too readily to properly delve into any of these ideas in any real depth. Things happen, characters react to them, and more things happen. Characters are introduced and then fade into memory, which is to be expected of a road trip adventure, but which leaves the central characters underserved.
To be fair, Tristan Göbel and Anand Batbileg bring a lot of charm to the film, offering a very convincing air of teenage detachment and confusion to the narrative. Both Göbel and Batbileg suggest some sense of interior life to their teenage characters, whether staring up at the stars and contemplating the universe or dancing anxiously around the finer details of their home lives. Tschick may have difficulty focusing on what is important, but it is never dull or boring. The film can always fall back on its two leads.
Tschick is an uneven and conventional road movie, one that is effective but feels a little shallow.
I don’t normally rate films, but the Audi Dublin International Film Festival asks the audience to rank a film from 1 (worst) to 4 (best). In the interest of full and frank disclosure, I ranked this film: 2