Breakfast, younger brother fed and dressed, off to school, all in haste. Great responsibility for a ten year old, great fun in places too; later going playing in the park with mother and her friends but then her two boys, Jack and Manuel, taking the U-Bahn home well after dark as Sanna’s evening continues.
Eventually this domestic arrangement collapses, an accident leads to corridors inhabited by social workers, new rules, a new home, a new struggle.
Resting almost entirely on the skinny shoulders of its protagonist, Jack is a a tremendous piece of filmmaking. Ivo Pietzcker’s performance is amazing, much of it physical – beyond a constant rush, a headlong pace over bridges and up stairs and down streets and through underpasses all caught by chasing Steadicam, there is a brow that furrows in thought, in despair, in anger. He convinces in his interactions with Georg Arms as the younger Manuel, and even more so with Luise Heyer as mother Sanna. In a film that focuses on family and maturity and responsibility, it’s a stunning debut for young Ivo. Parallels with Antoine Doinel’s hell-raising might seem excessive, but this is a defining role – there aren’t quite 400 Blows but Jack manages plenty of trouble, and while Jack’s quest does come to a satisfying end it’s not without ambiguity.
When Jack’s mother goes missing he resolves to find her, a quest that takes him through an already explored urban space – he knows the gates he can slip through, the fences to jump, the underground garages and the shopping precints. He travels through no-collar workplaces that all know him by sight, the nightclubs sitting empty in the day-time and the arenas being set up for concerts, the free t-shirt economy of casual labour and even more casual childcare. There are darker corners, dank stairwells and abandoned cars, a foray into shoplifting, and the care home Jack is consigned to even before his mother disappears.
At times heart-breaking, Jack marks a jump back from television to film for director Edward Berger, and while he’s written before it’s a debut for Nele Mueller-Stöfen who also appears among the cast. The script is well judged, well paced, but the score can at times feel a little heavy-handed in the face of what seems an overwhelming naturalism. The occasional swell and stir draws one away from authenticity, as while it’s passion that drives the events of Jack it otherwise avoids becoming overly sentimental. It’s got some details spot on, from the mechanics of petty theft to the difficulty of speaking to anyone in a squat saturated with techno. Jack’s world is one of corridors, access ramps, loading gates and city parks, and his journey through it in search of his mother is compelling. The supporting cast are all strong, but it’s Ivo who steals it.
Subtitles:German, English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, Serbian