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With: Uwe Ochsenknecht, Gustav-Peter Wöhler, Petra Zieser, Ulrike Kriener, Anica Dobra, Heiner Lauterbach, Franz X. Gernstl, Gisela Gernstl, Jimmy Ochsenknecht, Wilson Gonzalez Ochsenknecht, Leopold Zieser, Emilia Zieser
Written by: Doris Dörrie, Ruth Stadler
Directed by: Doris Dörrie
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: German, with English subtitles
Running Time: 105
Date: 03/19/2013

Enlightenment Guaranteed (2001)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Meditaion Elation

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

German director Doris Dorrie has been making films since the mid-1970s and recently received a lifetime achievement award at the San Francisco Berlin and Beyond festival. Yet hardly anyone knows her work, including me. Enlightenment Guaranteed is my first Dorrie, and I'm glad I finally caught up with her.

The majority of Dorrie's films are either documentaries or comedies, so my guess is that she's someone who manages to see the humor in everyday life. Certainly Enlightenment Guaranteed demonstrates this notion.

In Enlightenment Guaranteed, a man named Uwe (Uwe Ochsenknecht) arrives home to find that his wife has suddenly left him. Distraught, he goes to see his brother Gustav (Gustav Peter Wohler) on the eve of Gustav's departure for Japan to study with the Buddhist monks. Uwe gets very drunk and demands to go with Gustav. By the time he sobers up, he's on a plane.

The brothers prepare to spend a quick night in Tokyo before departing for the remote Buddhist temple. But they quickly lose their way--and their hotel room--and wind up wandering the streets, penniless after an unexpectedly expensive dinner.

The first half of the story deals with the brothers and the way they handle their bad situation. The film teeters on the brink of stupidity as many of the brothers' mistakes could easily have been avoided with a minimum of foresight. I'm fond of movies in which misfortune rages out of control, seemingly inflicted by the gods themselves. But here, as in Meet the Parents, the main characters are the authors of their own misfortune.

I say "teeters," because Dorrie manages to keep the film, and her characters, on track. And the film rights itself in the second half when the hapless brothers finally make it to the temple and begin their spiritual training.

Dorrie shoots on digital video, and also gives Uwe his own video camera with which to record his experiences (fortunately for Uwe, he never seems to run out of batteries or videotape). The result is a more direct, more palpable effect than the same comedy would have been in Hollywood. We get close to these characters and we grow affectionate toward them. Though they're both silly--Uwe with his lecturing and Gustav with his perfectionism--they're presented in such small strokes we can digest them a little at a time.

In the end, when Uwe and Gustav finally emerge, somewhat enlightened, from the temple, we feel somewhat enlightened too.

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