After a run of light-hearted or comedic German films at Manchester Film Festival (MANIFF), the final offering in the Das Kino strand is very different fare indeed.
Kids Run is the feature debut of director Barbara Ott and is a thick slice of social realism set in a dreary German city where the sun never shines, the river is always grey and the shop shutters are always down.
Andi (Jannis Niewoehner) is a young man with three children from two different mothers. He’s trying really hard to be a father, to live up to those responsibilities – particularly as the mother of his older two children has issues of her own which mean she is less than the ideal parent. In low-paid, insecure work, Andi never has enough money for even the basic things he and his children need, and turns to boxing to try to win some much-needed cash.
Andi’s far from perfect; he’s doing his best but it’s not good enough, and his temper and frustration lead to aggressive behaviour which both frightens his daughter and shocks the audience on occasion.
It’s the kind of role one could easily see a younger Matthias Schoenaerts play – of course Rust and Bone combines both childcare and fighting, but with a little sun and some romance to break up the misery.
And that’s the main issue I had with Kids Run – it’s misery piled upon misguided choices with a side order of misfortune – and it is relentless. I understand that the film aims to present an example of how (some) people’s lives may be, but that doesn’t necessarily make a good narrative. If it were Andi’s story alone, focussing just on the adults’ experience, it would be one thing. But the unaddressed child neglect is quite alarming. One bad thing after another happens, social services are absent, and there is no hope anywhere that anything is ever going to get better.
And this is what makes the denouement completely exasperating. Whether intended or not, I inferred a hint of redemption. And after everything we had just experienced close-up with Andi and his family, the film just didn’t earn it.