Movie Review: Stereo (Jürgen Vogel)

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Erik’s life isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty good. His beautiful girlfriend loves him, her sweet daughter looks up to him, and even her suspicious father is clearly being protective until Erik proves himself. But who is the mysterious stranger in a parka who wants Erik to admit that this lovely life is nothing but a lie? And why is Erik the only one who seems able to see him?

My Review

The Psychological Thriller Stereo strikes me as a very male movie — not just because it’s full of action and danger, but because the action and danger are built on an insecurity that I think men feel much more often than women. Erik secretly fears that he is a big fake and that everyone he cares about will soon learn what a bad man he really is.

There is a powerful early scene with Erik, his girlfriend Julia, and the stranger who calls himself Henry. Julia is trying to cheer Erik up and get him to spend the day with her, but she is drowned out by Henry’s taunting. Henry says that a classy woman like Julia couldn’t possibly love a dirty, middle-aged, working-class mechanic like Erik, that she is only with him because she is bored, and that Erik should end the relationship before she does. Guess which of them wins that tug-of-war?

But Henry is more than Erik’s self-doubt come to life — and he isn’t the only newcomer. There is also a very visible stranger, who seems to know Erik by another name and who hints that they are both in danger from someone only Erik can stop.

Stereo is a cross between Breaking Bad and The Matrix, with archetypes from the Bible. But I won’t say which Old Testament figures Erik and Henry are, because that would spoil everything! Jürgen Vogels is excellent both as Erik and as the movie’s center of gravity — which is important in a story where everything eventually spins out of control. Moritz Bleibtreu, who plays Henry, and the rest of the cast are just as good. And the plot kept me guessing all the way to a satisfying ending. Perhaps those who watch a lot of Psychological Thrillers found some parts more predictable and some characters more cliched, but I think even they would really enjoy Stereo. Highly recommended.

Language Learning with Stereo

I watched Stereo with English subtitles because it was screened for Cine Europa 2016, Manila’s annual European film festival. For the most part, I still need English subtitles; but when the dialogue is not too difficult and I am concentrating, I can understand it without them.

As always, repetition really helps. After seeing “F*** off!” in the subtitles several times, I prepared myself to catch the German version the next time two characters argued. And I did: it was, “Verschwinde!” That surprised me. “Verschwinden” means simply “to disappear” — and I know it well today thanks to a cartoon and to a children’s comic book. Until I saw Stereo, I never guessed it also had a harsh edge. A few months ago, in German class, I said of an unpopular former employee of the school, “Er ist verschwunden” — meaning only, “He is gone.” My teacher quickly said, “Nein,” and changed the subject. Now I wonder if it is because what I said sounded more like, “He shoved off!”

Of course, one new expression per movie isn’t enough! I really want to watch Stereo again, this time with German subtitles. Then I would like “to sentence-mine” it. This means simply copying the sentences so that you can review them at other times. (Again, repetition is very important!) But if the Goethe Institut library doesn’t have a DVD copy of Stereo, I don’t know how I can do this.

English learners are so lucky to have, with a “Memorable Quotes” page for nearly every movie.

“Culture Learning” with Stereo

Beyond language, there were many cultural codes that I had trouble with. For instance, I could tell that the characters had different accents, and that the accents told us something about them, but I was not sure what.

Then there was one detail that completely went over my head. When one character called another a “Gypsy,” I did not realize he was a literal Gypsy. Even after seeing the caravan of mobile homes, I failed to make the connection! The friend who saw Stereo with me had to point this out to me.

On the other hand, thanks to Stereo, I now appreciate a funny sketch from an older movie, Keinohrhasen (Rabbit without Ears). Jürgen Vogel appears as himself in the very first scene, telling an interviewer about how a trip to Hollywood has changed him. That is, he appears as a changed version of himself: long blond hair, spray tan, and blindingly white teeth. I knew nothing about Vogel when I first saw Keinohrhasen, but I still found the scene hilarious. Now that I know he normally plays tough guys and has a famous crooked smile, it’s ten times funnier.

If the Goethe Institut doesn’t have Stereo, at least I’ll know I can’t go wrong with a different Jürgen Vogel movie.

Have you seen Stereo?

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