Fashion Victims

Fashion Victims


Reviewed by: Jeff Robson

Heard the one about the classic German comedy movie? No, me neither, but Rasper’s sparky farce does prove that a German joke can sometimes be a laughing matter.

The set-up is familiar – a middle-aged, status-obsessed family man finds his world beginning to unravel and reacts by digging himself a deeper and deeper hole – but there are enough variations played on the theme (chiefly a tender and realistic gay romance subplot) to mark it out as worth a look.

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Edgar Selge plays Wolfgang, a slightly wobbly pillar of his provincial German community, who’s always just a little too over-extended at the bank and a bit too prone to picking up speeding tickets in a brand new car that doesn’t quite fit into his garage (a telling, if slightly obvious metaphor, for his life as a whole).

He has a devoted, stay at home wife (Franziska Walser) and a young son, Karsten, who writes horoscopes and tries to pluck up the courage to tell mum and dad that he’s gay while working out what to do with his life. Wolfgang is in the rag trade, peddling dowdy clothes for middle-aged women with ‘problem zones’ around the boutiques of identikit model-railway towns. The first sign of impending meltdown comes when his bosses unveil a new range - ‘Grazilla’, cheap but pretty and designed to galvanise their image. It’s the brainchild of a young salesman called Steven, who’s convinced he can sell the new stuff to Wolfgang’s clients – and has the company’s backing.

While he’s still digesting this, Wolfgang drives Karsten to the airport, where he’s due to fly out to a Spanish language summer school. But they’re caught by a speed camera and because of his previous offences, Wolfgang lands a driving ban. Desperate, he persuades Karsten to stay at home and chauffeur him round as he tries to save his customer base from the young pretender.

Karsten agrees with spectacularly bad grace and watches as his dad flounders in the face of shop after shop that’s already been pitched ‘Grazilla’ by Steven and prefers it to Wolfgang’s frumpy schmutter. Sent off on a dry cleaning errand, he has a chance meeting with Steven and the two hit it off. But when Karsten realises that his new boyfriend is the old man’s nemesis, the problems of concealing his sexuality are compounded by the need to keep Steven’s presence in his life a secret.

Meanwhile, Wolfgang is over-extending himself at the bank and his wife is becoming ever more exasperated at his hare-brained schemes and constant efforts to keep up with the Herr Joneses, financed on tick and executed by cowboy builders. This conflict, finally sends Wolfgang over the edge...

Come on, wasn’t the world crying out for a Teutonic farce version of Death Of A Salesman? Fashion Victims isn’t the most subtle or original film you’ll ever see, but it has a few laugh out loud moments and a bunch of characters you genuinely care about. Rasper pokes gentle fun at bourgeois materialism without ever really questioning it, or the unending consumerism that fuels Wolfgang’s existence. ‘Grazilla’ is a logical extension of his life’s work, selling a new dream of vaguely Mediterranean elegance to the hausfraus of MittelEuropa, who choose not to question the manufacturing provenance that enables Steven to peddle his goods so cheaply.

The climax threatens tragedy and genuine dysfunction but settles for inspired silliness and gentle reconciliation. It’s a fundamentally good-natured film and benefits from a quartet of cracking performances. Selge offers a masterclass in hangdog desperation , clutching desperately at the symbols of his ‘success’ and ‘normality’ while Walser takes a role that initially seems like a stereotypical nagging wife and turns it into a well-rounded picture of a woman still relatively young but worn down by taking care of a fundamentally decent but exasperating husband.

As Karsten, Florian Bartholomäi is convincingly nervous and troubled, but grows throughout the film, eventually becoming more of a ‘provider’ for the family than his dad. It’s very plausible that he should fall for Roman Knizka’s charismatic Steven – successful, confident and openly gay, he’s everything that Karsten isn’t. But he’s just as determined to grind his sales rival into the dust and not above using some dodgy sales tactics to do so.

Rasper gets his four principals ricocheting off each other with a light touch and an instinctive understanding of the bizarre self-destructive logic that propels the best farce. And the camerawork beautifully evokes the peaceful byways and small towns of the German provinces, a setting perfectly at odds with the frenetic tragicomedy unfolding in their midst. Not quite a haute couture product then, but not your usual off-the-peg stuff either.

Reviewed on: 07 Sep 2008
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Fashion Victims packshot
A German clothes salesman finds his territory challenged by a young rival – who’s also become romantically involved with his secretly-gay son.
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Director: Ingo Rasper

Writer: Ingo Rasper, Tom Streuber

Starring: Edgar Selge, Florian Bartholomäi, Roman Knizka, Franziska Walser

Year: 2007

Runtime: 105 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Germany


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