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BERLINALE 2021 Generation

Review: Mission Ulja Funk

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- BERLINALE 2021: Barbara Kronenberg's first feature is a quirky children's comedy, full of nonsense and absurd characters

Review: Mission Ulja Funk
Romy Lou Janinhoff in Mission Ulja Funk

Mission Ulja Funk [+see also:
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is the debut feature by German director Barbara Kronenberg - an alumna of Cologne's Academy of Media Arts – which is screening in the Generation Kplus strand of the 2021 Berlinale.

In the first scene, set somewhere in the German countryside, we follow a children's service at a chapel. Even though most of the kids' presentations are weird and embarrassing (though tirelessly applauded by the crowd of parents and relatives), our protagonist, a 12-year-old aspiring astronomer called Ulja (Romy Lou Janinhoff), tries to deliver a serious lecture warning the attendees about an incoming asteroid she's just discovered. Her unsuccessful presentation is followed by her grandmother's (Hildegard Schroedter) decision to dispose of her technical equipment, a move supported by Pastor Brotz (Luc Feit), the story's real villain from the outset. Ulja, meanwhile, is in touch with a scientist, Professor Ainaar Kirsipuu (Börje Lundberg), who lives on the Polish-Belarusian border where the asteroid is expected to impact. She decides to join him and teams up with a boy the same age as her, called Henk (Jonas Oeßel), who has “no skills except for driving,” promising in return to help him with his homework.

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This surreal agreement marks the beginning of a long, winding journey driving a hearse across Germany, Poland and Belarus, full of nonsense and absurd characters. Among these is a man who dreams big and hopes to open a multinational firm selling pierogi dumplings worldwide, a pair of daft police officers, and many others whom viewers will be happy to discover. Most of the comedic moments are obviously far from credible, but nonetheless quirky and entertaining – the film was no doubt directed more in the spirit of a live-action cartoon than a grounded, traditional comedy. Kronenberg’s attempt is largely successful, and the film also features interesting takes on society's religious hypocrisy and other types of “moralisers,” which are not generally found in a piece of this kind. The main theme remains that of family pressure, mostly embodied here by Ulja's oppressive grandmother and some of the parents joining the chase to catch Henk and Ulja. Conversely, the girl's parents, Irina (Anja Schneider) and Evgenji (Ivan Shvedoff), display a more understanding attitude towards their daughter's passions. The crazy family is rounded off by Ulja's brothers, Wanja (Janis Toygar) and Sascha (Jonas Toygar), who never hesitate to show off their stupidity and clumsy disguises. Feit, meanwhile, who plays a corrupt priest unwilling to reconcile science and religion, is hateful enough to bother both younger and older audiences.

All the right ingredients come together in this pleasant and humorous comedy which is produced by Germany's In Good Company, Luxembourg's Samsa Film and Poland's Shipsboy, and which is sold worldwide by Berlin-based outfit Picture Tree International.

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