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NBFF Review: Der Sandmann (The Sandman)

Tuesday night for the Newport Beach Film Festival was an international showcase night, featuring films from countries including France, Sweden, Australia, and Switzerland, which is the country where the filmmakers responsible for Der Sandmann have come from.  Once again, I have chosen wisely, as Der Sandmann is a wonderful film that managed to bring a fantastical element into the realm of a romantic comedy.  It is a sweet and funny film, but also charming in the way this fantasy element adds to the film’s imagination and spirit.  Settling into strange territory, this is the kind of romantic comedy that I can enjoy; one that is original, with interesting ideas that are well thought out, while still maintaining the right kind of emotional backing.

Psychiatrist:  That is an interesting metaphor.

Benno:  No, it is not a metaphor, I am really losing sand.

The film stars Fabian Krüger as Benno, an average, slightly bitter, man who works in a stamp appraisal shop in Switzerland.  Benno also has a taste for music, but cannot stand the woman who owns the coffee shop below his apartment, due to the fact that she constantly practices a one-woman orchestra loudly at nights while he is trying to sleep.  This woman is Sandra (Irene Brügger), whom Benno believes to be untalented and unattractive.

Things take a very odd turn for Benno, who starts to discover a small amount of sand in his home, then at his work, and soon everywhere he goes.  The amount of sand becomes larger, and Benno soon discovers that it is trickling out of him.  Benno eventually finds that his sand has the ability to make people fall asleep instantly, but is more concerned with the dire shape that he soon finds himself in.  As if this were not enough, Benno also finds that every time he falls asleep (due mainly to the sand he inhales), Sandra not only appears in his dreams, but shares the dream within her own mind as well.  The two of them will have to figure out the meaning of all of this together, if Benno wants to try and keep himself in one piece, opposed to millions.

The vibe I got from this film was akin to a romantic/fantasy comedy like Defending Your Life in the way that this film gets by mainly due to the charm and energy from the characters and how they respond to what the premise gives them to work with.  I was also reminded of a film like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; in the way this film has been practically made, with some minor digital touches, in an effort to better convey a strong visual storytelling element.  There is also a bit of meanness that echoes the tone of Eternal Sunshine, but without ever becoming something more extreme than it needs to be.

Present at the screening was the writer/producer/director, Peter Luisi, who explained how this film was essentially a remake of his own short film school assignment, where he was tasked with making a film that had no dialogue.  I can see how this would have worked for that project, as the film uses sand as a very clever device.  It is a great kind of substance to visually portray on screen in relation to the dilemma of the characters, while also suggesting many deeper themes and motifs that relate to them.  Given that Luisi has now made a full length feature, his talents as a writer have continued to payoff, as I really enjoyed the way the story played itself out, now adding dialogue as well.


His characters are a lot of fun, with a good handle on keeping the comedic aspect alive throughout, while settling into some of the more emotional elements later on.  Both lead actors are quite good, sharing a nice sense of chemistry, which can be credited to them and the script as well.  Krüger as Benno, in particular, does a fine job at creating a character who we are not supposed to initially be fond of, but must evolve to liking him as the film goes along and he gets himself into more dire straits.  He also handles physical comedy quite well.  The way Benno handles all of the sand manages to be funny and engaging, while also presenting a dramatic side to his unfortunate dilemma, as time goes on.

The filmmaking is quite solid throughout.  While the film does move along a bit slowly towards the middle, I was engaged enough with the story and characters enough to not mind so much.  It helps that the film stretches its budget (always the nature of independent films) to work out a convincing way to show a character who is constantly spilling sand from within himself.  It becomes this hilarious burden that is used effectively enough to enhance the comedy and the drama when needed.  As Benno starts to suffer a bit more later on in the film, Luisi and his crew also finds ways to have enough fun with camera tricks and editing techniques to continue to create effective ways of showing off the fantasy angle.  There is an effective soundtrack within the film as well, which manages to actually link itself into the story in a neat way.

It is nice to be seeing so many wonderful films at the festival.  I was once again highly entertained during this screening, which is one of the things I usually hope for.  Der Sandmann is a very charming film that is funny, engaging, and well put together.  It also has a sweetness to it, which I think should be able to balance out the strangeness that some may find in its premise.  I embrace the strange, however, so to me, I was pleased to find a romantic comedy that manages to be different from the usual blandness and create a unique premise that is fully realized and adds to the visual sense of a film.  Very entertaining, creative, and thoughtful.

Click on the poster to visit the Newport Beach Film Festival website, and be sure to check back to Why So Blu throughout the week for more of my coverage of the festival.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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