A grotesque comedy in a lesser "Delicatessen" vein, but sans special effects, "Esperanza" is an amusing, fast-sailing romp set aboard a boat ferrying 10 passengers from Germany to Denmark. Co-scripting his first feature with Wolf Jacoby, actor-director Zsolt Bacs treats audiences to a parade of offbeat acting talent on a roll. Though there's no real point to the goings-on (despite some wry moral intimations), pic was funny enough to open Berlin's German sidebar in good humor before getting a shot at the paying public. Euro niche hunters could also take a peek.
The film hits the ground running as 10 desperate people miss the last ferry from Rostock to Copenhagen on New Year's Eve. They are quickly enticed aboard the rusty old tub Esperanza by Bela, a mad Hungarian chef played by Bacs, and his delightful jack-in-the-box assistant Smutje (Boris Aljinovic.) Only when they're under way does an unseen captain announce, alarmingly, that this will be the ship's last voyage. Also, he has sold the instrument panel because he navigates by instinct. A pea-soup fog then reduces visibility to zero, before the engines give out.
With the captain locked in his room, the only other visible crewmember is a brawny engine room attendant (Andreas Hoppe) totally engrossed in repairing watches and burying them at sea. The passengers are also a pretty motley lot. Natascha (Mavie Horbiger), a sulky Russian rich girl, wants to dump her do-gooder b.f. Franz (Frank Giering of "Funny Games"). A homely 40-year-old virgin (Konstanze Proebster) wants to kill herself, an Iranian diplomat's son (Toni Snetberger) wants to get laid, and a mousy reverend's aide-de-camp (Anna Thalbach) wants to have sex with her celibate boss (not present). During the overnight journey, the secrets and lies of their lives explosively burst forth, culminating in the absurdly liberating transformation of haughty EU prosecutor Jasmine Gassner (Proschat Madani).
The comedy is far from the Kusturica-style madhouse that Bacs seems to be aiming for, but on its own terms it works fairly well. Bernhard Wagner's irreverent camerawork uses distorting lenses to position the actors on production designer Georg Kuhn's pleasure boat past its prime. Oli Weiss' editing lends a smooth comic rhythm, aided by Ferenc Snetberger's and Wolfgang Hammerschmid's foot-tapping score.
Camera (color), Bernhard Wagner; editor, Oli Weiss; music, Ferenc Snetberger, Wolfgang Hammerschmid; production designer, Georg Kuhn; costume designer, Viola Volk; sound, Janick Hermannsdorfer; line producer, Wolf Jakoby. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (German Perspective), Feb. 10, 2006. Running time: 92 MIN.