We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Great comedy works as catharsis every bit as much as drama does, which is one possible explanation for Go for Zucker’s success at home. Billed as “the first German-Jewish comedy since World War II,” Swiss-born director Dani Levy’s latest swept the 2005 German Film Awards with six wins. It’s a shame the film’s postreunification milieu is unlikely to resonate as much with Americans. Sixtysomething Jaeckie Zucker (Henry Hübchen) is a former East German celebrity, now reduced to small-time pool shark to pay off his mountain of debt. He’s constantly sneaking around behind his wife Marlene’s back—for the purpose of gambling, not fornication—and is hilariously out of touch with his adult children. He learns of his mother’s death via a telegram from his estranged Orthodox Jewish brother, Samuel (Udo Samel), who also conveys an only-in-the-movies stipulation: The pair will inherit Mom’s estate only if they can spend seven days together in traditional Jewish mourning and reconcile their decadesold grudge. Soon Samuel journeys to East Berlin with his wife, his ultra-Orthodox son, and his worldly daughter, and the two halves of this wacky extended family are set up for a reunification of their own—albeit one complicated by Jaeckie’s ever-more elaborate schemes to steal away for a billiards tournament that could turn his finances around. From Marlene’s frantically buying books on Jewish law and completely restocking her refrigerator to give the appearance that she and Jaeckie keep kosher to Samuel’s accidentally popping Ecstasy, Zucker makes fun of everyone and everything it can. But it mostly makes fun of Jaeckie, a man so trapped inside his own head space he delivers the film’s opening voice-over while comatose. Hübchen’s born-loser act is priceless as Jaeckie manipulates everyone around him into lending him a little more forgiveness here or a few thousand more euros there, and Levy adeptly juggles the door-slamming comedy of the first half with the inevitable heartstring-pulling melodrama of the conclusion; even better, he and co-writer Holger Franke always find a way to undercut each with a bit of the other. Zucker never gets too zany or too maudlin, and its characters, each wrapped up in his or her own pettiness, could serve as stand-ins for just about anyone—even American moviegoers. Eventually we see Jaeckie and Samuel for who they are: two silly old folks who are getting a little too old to act so silly.