A little over a month ago, Eddie Redmayne was the toast of Tinseltown for his Oscar-winning portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. The story was an inspiring portrait of a man suffering with ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), showing how he coped with the disease for decades with the support of his loved ones. Marsh’s film makes a good reference point for Christian Zübert’s new drama Tour De Force, which features a main character with the same disease, but approaches it from a markedly different perspective.
In the beginning of the film, we meet Hannes (Florian David Fitz), who is rallying his closest friends for their annual bike tour from Germany to a neighboring European country. This year, he has chosen Belgium as the location of choice, a place which will hold special significance on this trip. For Hannes, this is literally a final destination, as he plans to commit assisted suicide there, in an effort to halt his progressively worsening ALS affliction. As the friends embark on their adventure, Hannes breaks this news to them at their first rest stop, giving them the shock of their lives. The revelation leaves them hesitant to proceed, but the gang decides to band together to give him one last hurrah in his final days.
As you can see, this is not a story of the triumph of the human spirit. Neither is it a depiction of a last gasp act of desperation. To the unknowing eye, Hannes barely shows any signs of the debilitating effects so powerfully conveyed through Redmayne’s Hawking. We soon learn that Hannes had witnessed his own father’s agonizing experience with ALS, leading to his untimely death. This bit of information adds extra thematic heft to the grim premise, harkening back to similar questions raised in another successful film – The Sea Inside. In this case, it begs you to ponder whether it’s better to die with dignity than to wait for the dark days of pain and crippling hardship to come. A sobering thought indeed.
Yet the plot hardly confronts these serious issues in a meaningful manner, favoring a more typical road trip dramedy format instead. Apart from some minor pleading following the initial announcement, the friends basically accept Hannes’ drastic decision and move on. As such, it’s pleasantly ensemble-driven, shifting some of the focus away from the disease and directing it towards the adventure at hand. Each character is essentially given a bucket list task to achieve – including cross-dressing and parachute jumping – and the shenanigans that unfold are fun to watch.
Ultimately, the main shortcoming of Tour De Force is its existence in the shadow of more impactful films which deal with similar material. It’s a film that’s light on both drama and comedy, when its fatalistic premise calls for a more rigorous approach. It’s therefore not the “tour de force” its title would suggest, but it has enough comic relief and touching moments to make it worth a look.
Tour De Force is the opening night film of KINO! 2015, which runs from April 9-16 in New York City.