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Blindmen in the Buff

Doris Dörrie's Naked is a spirited comedy of sex, success and disenchantment

By Richard von Busack

THE CARTOONIST B. Kliban had a drawing of two defeated old people captioned, "The wagon of love breaks down under the luggage of life." In Doris Dörrie's sexy German comedy Naked (Neckt), such a breakdown is the source for a social comedy.

Over the titles, we see a group of thirtysomething friends living as they were, playfully. We feel their spontaneous delight in sex and the city, parks and kites, novelty-shop trinkets and camcorders. Now, they all groan under the transformation from bohemians to burghers in what seems like the twinkling of an eye.

"Your soul is getting fat," says Charlotte (Nina Hoss), grousing at her husband, Dylan (Mehmet Kurtulus). The two still have money left, despite their business reversals (he lost a mint in a cat-toilet business that sounds an awful lot like Pets.com). In anticipation of Christmas, the well-heeled couple are putting together a fancy dinner, inviting their four old friends.

Each of the four has had just about enough of Charlotte and Dylan. Charlotte's fancy-shmanciness and Dylan's extramarital cheating (not to mention his bad business advice) have strained these friendships. He's not a good cook, either. Dylan's a health fanatic known to serve up macrobiotic sludge. (Charlotte and Dylan's kitchen is a good laugh as it stands, a foodie's vault of horror: it's severe and chilly, with enough ambient stainless steel and electronic equipment for an operating theater.)

Despite it all, the two other couples trudge out for a free meal. Emilia (Heike Makatsch) and Felix (Benno Fürmann) arrive. Emilia has broken up with Felix but is still hanging out with him. She shows up wearing a homemade corset of Ace bandages, which is either meant as an avant-garde fashion statement or a symbolic way of flaunting her broken heart. Felix, a waiter, has rancorous class-warring feelings stirred up by Dylan and Charlotte's wealth.

Compared to these two, Boris (Jürgen Vogel) and Annette (Alexandra Maria Lara) are slightly less resentful, though they probably would have been happier with some time alone than with a duty-dinner.

And the dinner is as poor as could be expected. The roast is ruined, ducks are phoned out for, the appetizers are weird langoustines or something surrounded by about nine sad little peas per plate. After the wine does its work, the gang gets into a six-way argument on the subject of love.

Up comes the old question (a specialty in German film, from Wim Wenders to Tom Tykwer) of whether it was destiny or random chance that brought them together. So the group decides to play a psychologist's game: can they recognize each other blindfolded and nude, merely by touch.

In a film of 30 years ago, that would be that. In a liberating orgy, the ensemble would reconnect with the youth they themselves buried alive. And the slightly porno-movie music (electric piano and tenor sax) suggests this is the way matters will head. But Dörrie (best known here for her mid-'80s art-house success Men) goes beyond this Oh, Calcutta! or the Playboy Mansion soft-core instinct.

The identity game ends in a major squabble; the argument forks back to where it started, into the three couples' disenchantment. And the question arises whether lack of money or lack of romance causes the most misery in this world.

Naked has both charm and fangs. It's essentially what Friends would be like if it had any sex, brains or guts. In America, mentioning class differences out loud is screamingly bad taste. But these characters are willing to let their resentments fly, and that's reason enough to see Naked. What's even more satisfying is to see a movie contend with the idea that the aim of life is just a steady relationship and a well-feathered nest.

Naked (Unrated; 100 min.), directed and written by Doris Dörrie, photographed by Frank Griebe and starring Nina Hoss and Mehmet Kurtulus, opens Jan. 17 at the Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth St., San Rafael (415.454.1222).

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Web extra to the January 16-22, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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