Tough and Tender By Christiane Dancie

in 56th Berlinale

by Christiane Dancie

From the very first shots Detlev Buck’s film Tough Enough (Knallhart) is a very moving and strong piece of work. The young hero Michael Polischka, walking fast down a street in Berlin, has a concerned look on his face. Already, all the feelings and empathic attitude of the camera (Kolja Brandt’s remarkable work) are there. Detlev Buck has set his film in the multi-ethnic district of Neukölln. He researched his film by “just living there”, observing classes in schools for instance. The math lesson in the beginning works as an initiation for Michael who accepts — it is a major trait of his psyche — learning as a device to decipher and master the surrounding world.

Tougher experiences are yet to come. Leaving school he meets Erol and his gang who corner him, threaten him and beat him up. On his way home he encounters the solidarity and friendship of Crille and his half brother who invite him to live in their apartment while their father, a truck driver in Kazakhstan. This is all the better for Miriam, Michael’s mother, who keeps looking for Mr. Right. Michael’s walks in the neighbourhood will have him meet a nice girl who remembers him from school, a first and tender love.

Buck shows it with a delicate touch: the girl seems to share Polischka’s feelings, understands how lonely he is, but warns him that her father would not have him come up to their apartment. The director’s empathy with his characters matches his accurate vision, and his never passing a judgement attitude towards them. New friends mean breaking into the flat of Miriam’s last rich lover. As he wants to sell off a mobile phone he encounters Hamal at a barber shop, the drug lord of the district, for whom Michael will soon work as a courier.

Tough Enough has a lot of tenderness but lots of humour too. The scene which could be the regular meeting with con men in an Italo-American movie introduces Michael with the drug connection in Neukölln. That will have him cross Erol’s route again, Erol whom we also meet as a young father shopping and pushing a pram: Detlev Buck’s tender humour again.

Just as the light treatment varies from blue greyish tones to lyrical hues in the final scenes as a fox comes near Erol’s body, and Michael (an astonishing performance of the 15-year-old David Kross) reconciles and reunites with his mother, our feelings still follow a film which is tender although rough at times.