Sunday, December 27, 2009

Online Cinema: Crash Test Dummies

In late April of 2004 the European Union was looking forward to its largest expansion since its original constitution. Anyone holding a valid European passport would soon be able to drive from the Atlantic Ocean to the Baltic Sea. Anyone that is, except the dysfunctional characters of Joerg Kalt’s Crash Test Dummies, which premiered at the 55th Berlin Film Festival and is currently available for free online viewing at [now sadly defunct].

While the growth of the EU should facilitate transit between member states, the characters of the pan-European Crash all have transportation issues. Since Romania is not due to be fully integrated until 2007, Ana and Nicolae are technically illegal aliens in Vienna. Desperate for money, they have come to shuttle a hot car back to Romania. The only hitch is it has not been stolen yet, leaving them in a lurch.

As their cash reserve dwindles, the Romanians’ relationship strains to the breaking point. Bitter and separated, they come into contact with an unlikely circle of Austrian misfits. After a minor accident, Ana finds shelter with Jan, a heartbroken security guard at a Tesco-like retailer, who has recently lost his driver’s license. His roommate Martha works as a crash test guinea pig in an auto safety lab. Meanwhile, Nicolae puts the moves on Dana, a friend of a friend of Martha, who ironically works as a travel agent.

Crash is one of hundreds of films to hit the festival circuit in which a large cast of seemingly unrelated characters is connected through a series of accidents and random happenstance. However, Kalt ties the film together better than most, without indulging in any cosmic pretentiousness. While appropriately modest, its conclusion is arguably worth the free hour and a half of online viewing time to get to. Unfortunately, despite Crash’s relatively promising international reception, it will be the director’s final cinematic statement. Tragically, Kalt took his own life six months ago.

While Crash is the sort of film where characters often do frustratingly stupid things, it is anchored by two consistently likable and sympathetic performances from Maria Popistasu and Simon Schwarz as Ana and Jan, respectively. They also have genuinely memorable chemistry in their bittersweet scenes together.

Though several supporting characters are somewhat thinly sketched, the Romanian Popistasu and German Schwarz are present in enough scenes to carry the film. A very European production from a French-born Austrian-based German director, featuring Romanian, German, and halting English dialogue, Crash is an interesting portrait of the little changes wrought by macro developments in the EU. If not spectacular, it is still worth checking out while it is available for free at Babelgum.