Judge Joel Pearce liked this romantic comedy, but he liked even more that it was in the language of love: German.
Which direction is love?
Sometimes, I watch a genre picture and even though I know exactly what's going to happen, everything is done so well that it feels fresh and fun. In July is one of those. It is heightened by a solid script and several excellent performances. It doesn't have anything new to offer the viewer, but sometimes it's more important to do something right than to do something innovative.
Facts of the Case
Standard road movie premise: An uptight student teacher named Daniel (Moritz Bleibtreu, Run Lola Run) isn't planning to go anywhere on summer break, because he doesn't really have a social life. On his way home one day, he is stopped by a girl named July (Christiane Paul), who sells him a silver ring with a sun and tells him he will find his soul mate in a girl wearing the same symbol. What she fails to tell him is that she has been eyeing him for some time.
That night, Daniel runs into a Turkish girl named Melek wearing a sun symbol on her shirt. He is instantly smitten, and decides to follow her to Istanbul where he will profess his love. July is heartbroken that she has missed her chance, and decides to hitchhike with the next car that stops and that will determine where she goes. Of course, it's Daniel, and now she must help him get to Istanbul and make him fall in love with her. They then proceed to run into various adventures, meet a slew of zany characters, and fall prey to coincidences that could only be dreamed of in a movie script.
Will Daniel reach Melek in time? Will he ever realize that July loves him? I'm not going to tell you, and I am guessing I don't have to.
Okay, so the premise of In July isn't all that fresh. There are a number of things that make it stand out, though.
Instead of beginning with Daniel in the classroom, we first see him frazzled and frustrated, hitching a ride from a tough guy with a dead body in the trunk. They are both caught off guard by an eclipse, the first of many uses of the sun symbol throughout the film. Unlike its American counterparts, the coincidences of In July aren't merely coincidences. This is fate that Daniel is dealing with.
As time goes on, I have an increasing amount of respect for Moritz Bleibtreu. His character in Run Lola Run was great, a solid supporting role for Franke Potente's more kinetic role. Even though he was caught up in some serious trouble, Manny was a likeable everyman. More recently, I have seen him in The Experiment, and he did a great job of carrying the film. Now, he has brought a similar character to In July, and the film is a lot better for it. Daniel is uptight and a bit too innocent when we first meet him, but his performance is totally believable as he begins to do impulsive things to reach the love of his life.
Christiane Paul also puts in a great performance. July is impulsive from the very beginning, and it's somehow never a stretch that she would follow Daniel to the ends of the earth, even though she doesn't really know him. The supporting cast is mostly good. A few performances are too broad, but it may just seem that way next to the underplayed performances from the two leads.
The pacing of In July is one of the things that sets it apart from most American road comedies. Instead of fifteen minutes of character setup followed by a steady stream of silly shenanigans, In July starts slowly, gradually building up to a more hectic finale. While this may turn some viewers off early on, the slower pace of the first half of the film allows the audience to become more attached to the characters. Daniel and July have the chance to sit down and have some real conversations, and the humor at the beginning of the film comes out of those situations, rather than a continual emphasis on body humor and sight gags. Once things get rolling though, the pace of the second half should please any comedy fans. As Daniel gets closer to his goal, he becomes more frantic and allows himself to become less and less reserved, so he develops as the story reaches its conclusion.
The solid script also helps In July to feel like more than it is. When Daniel and July have the requisite fight that makes it seem like they will never get together, it is over real issues and problems, not based on a silly misunderstanding. Even though experienced romantic comedy fans will see most of the situations coming, they will also be impressed by how well they are handled when they arrive.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Unfortunately, there are a few times when this movie does swerve off the road. Although director Fatih Akin has tried to make In July a visually dynamic film, the cinematography often has the feel of a television drama. A few flashy camera tricks stand out, but most of the film has a typical, clinical look that doesn't fit the material. Scenes cut too abruptly at times, as if to allow for commercial breaks. This problem is made worse by the quality of the image, which lacks detail in most scenes. The colors are almost too vivid, and I suspect it may have been shot on digital video. It isn't the worst image I have seen, but there's something about the look of the film that didn't work very well.
The sound is somewhat better. The dialogue is sometimes mixed too loud, once again making it feel like a television production. The Dolby 5.1 track does have some surround use, and the music is never overpowering. It's not the kind of transfer you would use to show off your home theatre rig, but it's not the kind of movie you would use to show off your home theatre rig, so that's not a problem.
The extras on the disc consist of a few brief interviews and a theatrical trailer, which gives away most of the film. The interviews with Moritz Bleibtreu and Christiane Paul are short, as they try to talk with some level of intelligence about the film on the set between takes. The interview with Fatih Akin is better, as he discusses some of his motivations for making the film. He talks about Shakespeare as an inspiration for the film, which is interesting considering that many of the elements of contemporary comedies have not changed since the 17th century.
Perhaps the greatest victory of In July is succeeding despite being so familiar and generic in form. It's a wonderful film to kick back and enjoy, because it has no pretensions to be more than it is, and it delivers exactly what it promises.
Fans of comedies, even those tired of the tired tropes and formulas will want to check out In July. It made me remember what it felt like to watch comedies before I had seen dozens of them, and the formulas used here still work surprisingly well.
In July is free to go wherever fate leads it, with no further hindrance from this court.
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