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Farce From the Madding Crowd

Schweiger & Krol
The Celluloid Closeter: Worried that his visiting girlfriend will find out he's rooming with a gay man, Til Schweiger (right) orders Joachim Krol to hide for the duration in "Maybe ... Maybe Not."

German sex comedy swings open closet doors

By Richard von Busack

THE APPROVED way of defanging homosexuals on screen for popular consumption is to make them sexless pixies; To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Love Julie Newmar and The Birdcage both encourage tolerance through suggesting numbness below the waist. Tolerance is in short enough supply--especially in the wake of that recent great leap backward in the U.S. House of Representatives regarding gay marriages--but the problem with such sexlessness in farce is obvious; a farce without sexual tension is like nonviolent slapstick. Flirting With Disaster enjoyed its distinctive edge because Patrice Arquette looked quite capable of striking out on her own without her dithering husband; French Twist depended on Victoria Abril's similar ease in landing a man, or, for that matter, a woman.

Maybe ... Maybe Not, a smash hit in Germany, has as its centerpiece a handsome, none-too-bright and helplessly promiscuous man. Axel (Til Schweiger) has just been kicked out by his girlfriend, Doro (Katja Riemann), after being caught servicing one of the female customers in the nightclub where he works. Between places to stay, he's picked up by Waltraud (Rufus Beck), who is acting as a sort of gay ambassador to a liberal men's group. Waltraud has big plans for Axel, but the latter is reluctant to be seduced. While drunk at a drag party Walter has dragged him to, Axel decides to impose on Waltraud's meek little friend Norbert (Joachim Krol), figuring he'll be safe from any unwanted approaches at Norbert's apartment. Unfortunately, Norbert develops a powerful crush on Axel. Doro turns up pregnant and jealous, misreading, just as Norbert does, Axel's interest in the long-suffering man. Obliviousness, not repulsion, is the hinge on which the comedy turns. The immemorial scene of the lover forced to hid in the closet by the arrival of the mate is all the more tangy when the one being urged to hide in the closet is a gay man.

Maybe ... Maybe Not is based on two popular adult comic books by Ralf Konig, and director Sonke Wortmann has made a comic-book movie with lots of velocity and not much dimension. Still, it's a witty and diverting, and the idioms are translated so well in the subtitles that you don't ever feel the jar of culture shock. Wortmann plays with other matters than the lavender triangle: there are side gags about gay-versus-straight dating patterns ("You heteros always go for eternity"), men's groups (one member, surprising another at a porn movie, says, all sincerity, "Isn't what's done to women terrifying?") and the state of the art-house movie theater (At a multiplex where Death in Venice and Rambo are both showing, the inevitable drunk fans wait for Dirk Bogarde to go on a rampage).

Schweiger's male ingenue manages to make dumbness sweet and attractive; Doro admits later to a friend that she'd fallen for him after investigating the adage that idiots are good in bed. Riemann is particularly adept at the tricky business of registering betrayal without making it too sad. The best part of this speedy, devilish comedy is not knowing which way the tomcat Axel will jump. Marriage is the medicine the sugar of farce is supposed to help you swallow, but Maybe ... Maybe Not is left, with all the equivocation of the title, open-ended. Temporarily stalemated, Axel and Norbert head off together into a long corridor, their shadows trailing them, suggesting Casablanca -style the possibility of a beautiful friendship--or perhaps, considering the loose state of Axel's morals, a beautiful more-than-friendship.

Maybe ... Maybe Not (R; 94 min.), directed and written by Sonke Wortmann, photographed by Gernot Roll and starring Til Schweiger, Katja Riemann, Joachim Krol and Rufus Beck.

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From the July 18-24, 1996 issue of Metro

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