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March 22-28, 2006

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Summer Storm

Suddenly, Last Summer Storm: Achim (Kostja Ullmann) and Tobi (Robert Stadlober, left) while away an afternoon in 'Summer Storm.'

Mining for Oars

'Summer Storm' offers conclusive proof that teens have an easier time in Germany

By Richard von Busack


EVERY BOOB on the street thinks that German movies have cornered the market on angst, probably because they don't wander in to see garden-variety sex comedies like Summer Storm. It is so fluffy and feel-good a film about confusion that you halfway expect Rodney Dangerfield to walk into frame wearing a coach's uniform and tweeting a whistle.

Marco Kreuzpaintner's film concerns teams of handsome male youths (and a few token girls) turning up for a racing-scull regatta. The action takes place in a sultry lakeside summer camp somewhere in the green part of Germany. Being Bavarians, our heroes are regarded as hillbillies. The city teams that are competing, from Cologne and Berlin, are amused that a tractor company sponsors the boys from Bavaria.

From Germany's southern farmland, then, come dark-haired Achim (Kostja Ullmann) and the sensitive blond coxswain Tobi (Robert Stadlober). As close as Damon and Pythias (whoever they were), they even masturbate together sometimes. This routine passage of boyhood serves as mere fun distraction for Achim; for Tobi, it is his whole life. But while this friendship heads into trouble, Kreuzpaintner puts Achim and Tobi on the back burner in order to follow the other students, including the two girls who both love the boys and can't understand what's going on with them.

When the Bavarian rowers arrive at the campsite, they make a discovery. The Berlin team they had been gossiping about during the ride aren't a group of loose city women, as they'd heard. Instead, they're all male, and as gay as an aviary full of peacocks. They call their team "Queerschlag"—"The Queer Strokers"—and their presence angers the homophobes on all the teams. The most vocal of the angry Bavarians is the son of the team's sponsor, Georg, a.k.a. Schorsi, played by a young actor blessed with the name Tristano Casanova. Even as the boy thunders against homosexuality, the most Byronic member of the Queerschlag sizes him up; he believes with certainly that he can turn out the rich kid: "Straight boys make the best toys." In movies like this, which aim so honorably at the peaceful acceptance of sexuality, it is nice to know there is still a place for the unethical predatory gay male who used to haunt straight melodramas.

Summer Storm is handsome and well-meaning and utterly decorative, pausing for the usual shots of the gilded flies humming in the afternoon light and a mallard racing its reflection in the lake before the violent tempest that clears the air. Except for an amusing scene at the send-off dinner, where the fusty traditions of the rowing club are mocked, the comedy relief is heavy-footed. Summer Storm even goes in for the joke about "What are those gay guys doing in the tent with the cucumber"? (A: Wearing aprons and making a salad. Old jokes never die, they just smell that way.) The opening and closing theme, Nada Surf's "Blonde on Blonde," is essentially about seeing oneself as one walks, listening to the Dylan album while strolling along 14th Street. The movie has this song's mirrory sheen. Like the song, it is too superficial to call dramatic and a little too placid to call erotic.


Movie Times Summer Storm (R; 98 min.), directed by Marco Kreuzpaintner, written by Thomas Bahmann and Kreuzpaintner, photographed by Daniel Gottschalk and starring Kostja Ullmann and Robert Stadlober, opens Friday at selected theaters.


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