Petting statt Pershing

Ursula is 17 years old, and a misfit. Her school colleagues make fun of her, and call her “Obelix”. She’d rather read Camus than take part in sports lessons. Her mother thinks her problem is that she’s too clever.

Ursula’s mother could have been an artist, but her father soon took a stop to that. So she works as a part time teacher and housewife. She makes cheese boards based on Piet Mondrian paintings, but Ursula is the only one who notices.

Ursula’s father is the local doctor and active with the local church. He’s also having an affair with Ursula’s sport and Latin teacher, whose husband left her for a Romanian volleyball player. They all live in a lifeless village in Hessen, West Germany.

Then Siegfried Grimm arrives. Grimm is a substitute teacher of physics and biology. He wears a brown leather jacket and jeans, has a beard and knows how to knit. He lives in a commune on the edge of town, where they have non-violent trainings, consciousness raising groups and posters of the Green party on the wall (this is set in 1983, before the Greens become neoliberal warmongers).

Grimm already has a partner, but starts sleeping with most women in the village, including Ursula’s mother and the sports teacher. Meanwhile he moans that all the women he knows are trying to imprison themselves by forcing him into a proper relationship. Ursula also wants a piece of the action, but Grimm’s philandering will only go so far. So she cooks up a way of dealing with him, in a way that accords with her newly-found pacifism.

Petting statt Pershing doesn’t contain any great profundities and is not going to change the world, but nor should it have to. It is an amiable tale with great heart. And its rare to see a film where all the characters look like real people. Only the libidinous Grimm is particularly good looking, and he is a figure of fun.

There are a couple of nice subplots weaved in – just what did Ursula’s granddad do during the war, and what has happened to the missing schoolgirl who keeps cropping up on news reports? And Ursula herself plays a similar role to Leo in the Go Between – or indeed Adrian Mole – the well-meaning and sincere kid who only gradually realises that all the adults are shagging each other.

Ultimately, the film doesn’t have much to say, but what it does say, it says eloquently and sympathetically.

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