“Fashion Victims”–father and son

“Fashion Victims” (“Reine Gesechmackasche”)

Father and Son

Amos Lassen

We all have seen a character on the screen that is totally dislikeable that we grow to hate him as the film progresses. Even though there is such a character in “Fashion Victims”, the movie manages to overcome it and in fact, even redeems him a bit. Here is a movie with heart, depth and farce.

Wolfgang Zenker (Edgar Selge) is a character. He is lackluster, humorless, self-absorbed, picky and nasty. He ignores his wife Erika (Franziska Walser) and their teenaged son, Karsten (Florian Bartholomai). He is a salesman who sells women’s fashions but when he is caught driving with a suspended license, his work could suffer if he cannot make it to his buyers. He, therefore, cancels his son’s planned study trip abroad that Karsten has saved up for and he demands that his son become his chauffeur so that he can make his appointments at women’s clothing stores. Wolfgang sells for “the bigger woman” who is more “mature” but he soon finds that his sales are being edged out by a cheaper and flashier line which is promoted by a clever and brash new young salesman, Steven (Roman Knizka).
Purely by coincidence, Karsten and Steven meet and romance ensues. Karsten is unaware that Steven is both the competition and enemy of his father. Back home things are also going too good for Wolfgang. His wife is thinking of divorce and this is before she discovers that he has been keeping a secret from her—he is involved in a financial crisis that will impact his family.

Wolfgang is one of the most despicable characters even seen in movies. He takes his son’s college fund without anyone knowing, he mocks his wife, insults his customer’s appearances. At time the humor is almost too cruel to be funny. What offsets this is the magic in the relationship between Steven and Karsten which is delightfully sweet even though Steven is a bit guilty of “robbing the cradle”. Farce ensues with door slamming and slapstick and when we reach the climax we see that the family which seemed to be totally lost forms reconciliation in quite a poignant scene.

The movie is a surprise hit. I first saw it a little over a year ago when I was screening films for the Arkansas GLBT film festival and loved it. There is a wonderful combination of drama and comedy and the climax can only be described as hilarious. Not only does “Fashion Victims” deal with Karsten’s sexuality and his own acceptance of it, it also explores the dysfunction of the modern family. Karsten’s relationship with his parents is the heart of the movie. While he does, to a certain extent get along with his mother, he and his father share a strained relationship. Karsten has trouble with his father’s homophobic views and this is what makes him go behind his father’s back and begin an affair with his rival.

The acting is excellent throughout but it is Roman Knizka and Florian Bartholomai as Steve and Karsten that are the focus of our attention; they complement each other wonderfully. Edgar Selge as Wolfgang is both tragic and funny.

“Fashion Victims” is not mainstream cinema but it is a film that totally entertains. It is one of the best German films I have seen in years and is a real treat that should not be missed.

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