Yesterday, I went to the cinema and saw Free Rainer (in English: Reclaim Your Brain). It’s a German movie with Moritz Bleibtreu, one of my favourite German actors (because he can actually act, a rare thing in the German movie biz) by Hans Weingartner (he also did Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei or in English, The Edukators), an Austrian director.
Long plot outline (Warning: Contains Spoilers!): Rainer (Moritz Bleibtreu) is a creator of TV shows like “Who gets the Superbaby?” (where a woman choses between three man to have a baby with. The last test they have to face is a race of their sperm. Then the woman and the winning-sperm-man go to a hotel for 28 days and hope to get her pregnant…) and “Report 24” (a pseudo-news-report-show where they have no problem to interpret the facts rather freely…). He’s young, successful, good-looking, has a big apartment and an attractive girlfriend. He’s constantly on drugs and doesn’t give a shit about anything else than himself. In the beginning, he gets into his car (something expensive and sporty), hits a police car purposefully, gets some Vodka out of the glove department, puts on some rock music and, surprisingly, hits another car. Three hooligans get out of the car but Rainer gets a baseball bat and starts hitting his own car, destroying more or less what’s left of it, freaking the hooligans out. Than he just drives off (yes, the car is still able to).
In between, we get glimpses of a young girl (Elsa Sophie Gambard), camping near a lake, swimming and handling a knife pretty well. She gets out a news paper clip with a picture of Rainer, announcing him to be at an award ceremony.
Rainer and Anna, his girlfriend, get ready for the ceremony. Anna wants to have a show at Rainers TV station and he promises her to talk to his boss, Maiwald (Gregor Bloéb).
They arrive rather late at the ceremony. The girl we’ve seen before waits for them there. She asks Rainer if he’s the one who created “Report 24”. He says yes but obviously doesn’t know her and is confused. She has a knife behind her back but isn’t able to pull it out, instead she just runs off.
Anna and Rainer enter the ceremony where Rainer gets high praise. Then he and Maiwald and their girlfriends set out to get something to eat, somewhere else. Rainer excuses himself before they arrive at the restaurant, saying he forgot something in his car (he did – his cocain). But he doesn’t return and Anna spoils her chance to get a job at the TV station.
Rainer gets lost somewhere in the bars and in the early hours of morning tries to find his way home, albeit totally drugged, drunk and almost falling asleep. He gets into his car and drives off.
The girl followed him. When he stops in the middle of a crossroad because he dropped his cigarettes between his legs, she hits him with her car.
Rainer almost dies in the ambulance. During a short time when his heart stops beating, he has a nightmare: He is in a TV show and the audience is really brainless. The host of the show asks them if Rainer really should get the operation he needs to survive although it’s his fault that TV made the stupid. They are supposed to push a button to decide but if they don’t get the right one, it’s no problem, because it isn’t their fault anyway. Horrified, Rainer tries to call out to Maiwald but he’s just making out with Anna and laughing. The audience decides that Rainer should not live. Maiwald and Anna come to say goodbye, Maiwald telling him, don’t worry, it wouldn’t have been real doctors anyway.
Finally, Rainer wakes up. He lies in the hospital and Anna is sitting by his side. They don’t talk and she soon has to leave. Rainer is depressed and thoughtful. He wanders around in the hospital and finds the girl who hit him with the car. She was pretty badly injured as well. He goes into her room and she wakes up, startled and scared to see him. He tells her that she couldn’t possibly hate him as much as he hates himself. Then a nurse comes in and ushers him out.
When he returns to her room some time later, she’s gone. But he finds a news paper clip with a picture of a trainer who was in his show “Report 24”. In the show, they said that he used doping. After that he lost his license and killed himself. His granddaughter (the girl) said he never did use it.
We see some flashbacks of the girl and her granddad and then we see her crying (in the now).
Rainer goes home. He decided he wanted to do some good TV shows and starts a new show with the title “You Should Know That”. They start with a report about the fake testimony which more or less started the first Irak war (the nurse talking about the Irakis killing the babies). But when they check the viewer’s quota, it’s the lowest of all.
The next day, Maiwald tells Rainer that they will cancel the show. Rainer and Maiwald get into a big fight and Rainer resigns. Rainer gets obsessed with the quota. He finds out that in Germany there’s only 5.500 quota boxes, therefore there are only 13.000 people determining the program of Germany as a whole (and none of them foreigners). He’s convinced that the quota is faked.
One day, the girl, Pegah, as we now find out, shows up at Rainer’s apartment and apologises. He tells her she shouldn’t and asks her to help him.
Together they drive to a small town in Germany, where they find a hotel. Then they both go to the IMA (Institute of Media Analysis). Pegah waits in the car while Rainer takes the tour and steals the quota box on display there. On the way out he gets caught by a security guard but Pegah is able to convince the guard, Philipp, that they are on to a big conspiracy and that he should join them.
They drive to Philipp’s. He has all kinds of documentation about different conspiracies there and also a book about “socio phobia”. They tell him about their plan: First they wanted to check if there were any cables in the boxes (Philipp confirms that there are). Then they wanted to call everybody and check if the quota is faked or not but they don’t have the addresses of the people with boxes. Philipp tells them that he has the addresses. Rainer gets so excited, he starts crowding Philipp who flees to the bathroom. Pegah and Rainer leave and go back to the hotel.
Later that night, Philipp shows up there and tells them that he wants to be a part of their group. He brings them the addresses. And together they party.
The next day, they start calling the families with boxes. By asking them to change the channel and simultaneously watching if the quota changes, they find out that it really is correct.
They are desperate and want to give up. But Pegah suggests that they should exchange the boxes and start making the quota themselves. Rainer sells his flat to get some money, they order the boxes from Switzerland and find five unemployed guys to help them, who all start living in the hotel, where they also put up the computer HQ. They want to exchange a thousand boxes within two months. Everthing looks great.
But after the first day, everything’s different. One guy almost burns the house he’s supposed to exchange the box in. Another one destroys a table and a piece of art. Another one falls off a ladder and also destroys a table. One guy (Bernd) gets drunk with the woman who lives at the appartment where he exchanged the box. When he drives off, he hits a bus station. The police brings him to the hotel and asks Rainer for 50.000,- € bail. Rainer refuses to pay as it would be their last money.
The other guys, including Philipp and Pegah are disappointed in Rainer because of this refusal. They take off. Pegah and Rainer have a big fight where she tells him how he let them all down, that they were a team.
Rainer decides to bail Bernd out and word spreads among the guys who all come back together again. Rainer tells them that that was their last money and that he couldn’t pay them any more and that they have to quit.
But they all want to stay and have a new plan: Instead of exchanging the boxes, they would simply redirect the signal the boxes send out, change it and then send it back to the IMA.
They start working on that and soon have enough households “liberated” to be able to change the quota. They start by putting down TTS, Rainer’s former employer and then they begin to rate the “good stuff” like documentaries, famous movies and so on (here, Weingartner puts in a reference to his movie “Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei”).
Of course, this doesn’t go unnoticed. TV stations start changing their program and TTS’ CEO tells Maiwald to do something about the quota or else he’d get fired.
Pegah and Rainer get closer. Rainer reveals that he doesn’t know how to swim and Pegah starts teaching him.
We also get some interviews with people on the street. There are some who think that this change of program is great, some who think it’s not. As we get more and more interviews, there are more and more people who are in the park, reading and talking, a guy throwing a remote control instead of a stick for his dog and one woman telling us that usually she would have been in front of the TV now. But instead of watching TV she now enjoys a walk at the Elbe river.
Meanwhile, Maiwald remembers that Rainer was obsessed with quota before he disappeared. He asks Anna, who started working at TTS since the quota changed, if she heard anything from him. But Anna hasn’t, so Maiwald calls in a favour and has Rainer located through his mobile’s signal.
Maiwald shows up at the hotel and finds the equipment used for the quota change. When Rainer returns, Maiwald tells him that he won’t tell anybody if he just raises the quota for TTS again, 10% over the next couple of weeks. He would even pay them 100.000,- € per percent. Rainer is angry and tells him to leave. Confident of his victory, Maiwald does.
That night the group has a crisis meeting. They discuss their possibilities, some think that they should raise the quota, some don’t. Pegah says that the end of every revolution is money.
When Maiwald gets into his office on Monday morning, his secretary shows him the quota – nothing changed. Maiwald gets fired by his boss, who doesn’t believe him when he tells him about Rainer’s project.
Maiwald calls the police and they raid the hotel. But Rainer and everybody else just left.
The group is at Philipp’s uncle’s house where they are in hiding. They think that they haven’t had enough time to make the people want to see the good stuff (just as they were made to want the bad stuff). They are discussing what they should do. Continuing won’t be possible as the IAM certainly discovered how they manipulated the quota.
Bernd goes to buys some cigarettes and news paper. He reads it and then comes running back to the group, showing them that the quota was still the same although they hadn’t done anything for the past couple of weeks.
They start celebrating. Rainer goes outside and Pegah follows him. They kiss.
Newly motivated they set out to a town in Germany, which is said to have the most representative population. There, everybody goes shopping with a chip card, that saves the data about what they buy. In this town, it is decided what is going to be sold in Germany. They start working at the supermarket there and manipulate the data.
Well, after this lenghty description, here’s my comment about it:
The acting was exceptionally well for a German movie – I don’t know if I just notice bad acting more easily when it’s in German (it is my mother tongue after all) or if it’s really rare in the German film biz to have good actors. Anyway, in this movie it was well done (and if I think about Stipe Erceg in “Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei” that’s also not always the case in Weingartner’s movies).
Unfortunately the actors had to fight with cliché after cliché being thrust upon them. The cocain-sniffing, not giving a damn about anything media guy, the socio phobic computer nerd who spends his time with conspiracy theories (by the way, Weingartner should probably talk with the psychiatric association – he obviously has buried somewhere in his movie a miraculous cure for a psychosis, seeing as Philipp is socio phobic and then a couple of weeks later he isn’t anymore, not really anyway) and the revolutionary who is just a hurt little girl inside. Characterisation gets a little better towards the end, at least for the main characters. Sadly, it’s not enough to give them any depth.
The directing style was very conservative – the initial characterisation of Rainer, the news paper clips or the raid – there’s nothing we haven’t seen before. It’s not badly directed but in connection with the “revolutionary” content (not the content itself being revolutionary – we’ve all seen movies about the bad bad media biz, but the film being about revolution) it could have used some more revolutionary directing.
As in “Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei” (I’m sorry for the constant comparison between those two movies but they are so similar, not only in style but also in content that it just forces itself on me :), Weingartner uses lengthy monologues to explain why revolution is good/necessary/the thing to do, which can and does get boring.
Fortunately, there are some funny scenes, although he sometimes tries to hard.
The morale of the story is inconsequential at best. Because it obviously is a victory for everybody that people stop watching TV altogether to read books or to go for a walk: So bad TV makes people stupid and good TV makes people stop watching TV?
Also, Rainer stresses more than once that you should trust people to be able to handle intelligent TV. But by manipulating the quota, he doesn’t even give them a choice. Isn’t his approach to force-feed them the good stuff as bad as force-feed them the bad stuff?
Summarising: Not the best movie I ever saw but I definetly saw worse.