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Oxford Blues meets Beautiful Thing in German Summer Storm
Oxford Blues meets Beautiful Thing in German Summer Storm
by Lorelei Quenzer - SGN A&E Writer

Summer Storm

Rated R

German with English subtitles

Directed by Marco Kreuzpaintner

Starring Robert Stadlober

and Kostja Ullmann

Opens today at Harvard Exit

What if Rob Lowe had been interested in Julian Sands instead of Amanda Pays in Oxford Blues? Or if Jamie and Ste were into rowing instead of, uh, peppermint foot lotion in Beautiful Thing? You might have something like Summer Storm (Sommersturm). This sweet German indie flick deals with the crucial, transformative teenage summer of unrequited love.

Here's the nutshell: Tobi (Robert Stadlober) and Achim (Kostja Ullmann) are best friends. They're on the same rowing team in their Bavarian home town. They're going to sports camp together. They're planning a transrail fling to end their summer of fun. They're inseparable: commiserating about their girlfriends, working out, jacking off&.

You read that right: jacking off. Why, oh why doesn't Hollywood make movies like Summer Storm? Is this too real for American cinema? Or is it about damned time a movie - other than Porky's 27 - addressed the homoeroticism of the public school circle jerk? Discuss.

Okay, back to the story: It's too bad that Tobi's more into Achim than Achim is able to reciprocate. How long can Tobi keep his love a secret? The boys arrive at the sports camp - for rowing - with their respective girlfriends in tow, and find that the Berlin girls' team has been replaced by an all-male, all-Gay team, the Queerstrokes. Many of Tobi and Achim's teammates are naïvely shocked, although most of them act like they're cool about the situation. As Tobi is exposed to the sexual openness of his rowing rivals he comes to a clearer understanding of who he is and what he'll have to do to be himself in the world. After a dramatic and pointedly symbolic lightning storm, the movie culminates in a high-stakes rowing race with a cute twist that's clever and endearing.

The dialogue in Summer Storm feels real, although at times it seemed like Tobi, Achim and their teammates were teenagers from ten or fifteen years ago. Maybe it's just the difference between demure Continentals and us crass Yanks, but they seemed a little too polite to each other. On the other hand, the movie is deadly accurate about the transient and predatory friendships that kids create when they share a single interest like a sport. I know I often wondered - math club jokes aside - if the kids I hung out with could really be called my "friends," since none of us were really being ourselves. Who were these people? And if they weren't my friends, why did I care so much about what they thought of me? Summer Storm gets the teenaged misunderstandings and fights right, too. Did Tobi lie about sleeping with his girlfriend? Or did he just let Achim think he did the deed?

Director Marco Kreuzpaintner (Breaking Loose, 2003) wrote the story for film - what he calls an "exposé" - and it's based on his own coming-out story. His interest happened to coincide with the films' producers, who wanted to make a movie about Homosexuality with a theme that could be embraced by the broader public. Apparently there's a dearth of those in Germany. (Here, too, I'd like to add.) "I was often upset by the fact that in commercial German films you were always supposed to laugh at Gays instead of with them," Kreuzpaintner is quoted as saying in publicity materials. "We wanted an honest film about youth, about the ambivalence of those years. Not a thigh-slapping comedy or a superficial sexfarce." Great production values are a plus; Summer Storm is beautifully filmed and has a fun soundtrack that matches the film's tone and pacing.

Yes, there are stereotypes and teen-romp clichés in Summer Storm: the awkward sexual fumblings of Tobi's more rustic teammates, the urbanity and relative sexual ease of the Queerstrokes, the lightning-storm-motif as Tobi struggles to come out. And it's a little on the fairytale side, pardon the pun, that just as Tobi begins to explore his sexuality the Queerstrokes are there to show him there's a way out of the closet. But Stadlober does an especially adept job with the character of Tobi, making him simultaneously vulnerable and strong. He's the main reason why Summer Storm avoids being clichéd or trite. Ullmann, as Achim, looks like a younger version of Gael Garcia Bernal, calling to mind that ambiguous sexuality that's both macho and effeminate. There's a quality of "is he or isn't he?" throughout the film, exacerbating Tobi's predicament. Gael & I mean, Achim is seriously straight, though. And at one point he makes it clear that he might have a problem with a Gay friend, making it even more difficult for Tobi to come out to him.

All in all, Summer Storm handles the teen years with a light, warm touch as it examines growing up Gay. If you're looking for a great date movie, or one you can take your straight friends too, check it out at the Harvard Exit. It's rated R, mostly for its Gay subject matter, some raunchy jokes and one suggestive jerking off scene. There's some making out, one scene with a topless girl, and a lot of shirtless, wet teenaged boys.

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