In July (Im Juli) Movie Review
It never ceases to amaze me how much mileage there is left in the road trip and romantic comedy genres when they're blessed with a little creativity -- and the eccentrically dark chocolate German bonbon "Im Juli" (translated "In July") is nothing if not clever and resourceful.
Writer-director Fatih Akin boldly casts Moritz Bleibtreu (Lola's boyfriend from "Run Lola Run") as his hero Daniel, a socially insecure square and a dullard of a high school physics teacher. Not only is the hunky actor credible, he's also full of surprises as the character starts learning to take life by the horns.
The plot is also deceptive in its understated simplicity: Instantly smitten after a chance meeting with a beautiful Turkish girl (Idil Uner) passing through Hamburg, Daniel undertakes the first spontaneous act of his life -- he hits the road to Istanbul searching for her.
Dozens of complications, mishaps and misfortunes arise, of course, starting with the fact that he gives a lift to another adorable girl named Juli (Christiane Paul), a blithe street vendor with a jewelry stand who has been trying to flirt with the oblivious Daniel every day when he walks by after school.
But a double dose of unspoken, unrequited love is the least of their problems. Cars break down, have parts sold off to buy gas (soon they're driving without doors) and get stolen -- sometimes from the pair, sometimes by them. Passports go missing, turning border crossings into dangerous and/or comical adventures. Stowed away on a barge, Juli gets Daniel stoned for the first time in a creative fantasy sequence that finds them floating above the Danube. Daniel and Juli quarrel and separate but keep bumping into each other both accidentally and on purpose. When he's on his own, naive Daniel gets rolled by a sexy, sultry and very possibly insane, gypsy truck driver (Branka Katic).
All along Daniel is learning to come out of his shell and discovering his street-smarts -- something we know he'll need from the very first scene, which takes place halfway to Istanbul before the story rewinds to the beginning. Alone in the middle of nowhere, Daniel tries to hitch a ride from a guy who appears to be cheap Eastern European gangster (Mehmet Kurtulus) with a dead body in his trunk, and things get more than a little complicated.
Akin demonstrates an innate flair for subtle absurdity and lunatic twists in this endlessly enjoyable movie that turns clichés on their ears with the director's oddball execution. There's never really any question where Daniel's journey will take him in the long run. But it's the crafty twists along the way that are the picture's big payoff -- along with such winning, vivacious performances popping with unique personality that "In July" actually leaves you wanting more.