Greg is that most tired of clichés, an arrogant and cynical journalist. He’s been sent to Rome to cover the vote for the new pope, which pisses off as (a) he doesn’t believe in God, and (b) he thinks this sort of thing is beneath him. He brings with him his editor and a cameraman who believes that he can communicate with the locals by speaking Latin.
Maria lives in the house whose roof has been commandeered by the journalists. She rides a moped and is very good looking. And in three days’ time she’s going to take orders as a nun. Can you guess yet where all this is leading?
One of the reasons that I’m not keen on Rom Coms is – with a few honourable exceptions – you pretty much know everything that’s going to happen from the get go. Boy meets girl, and boy has to overcome one strange obstacle before boy can woo and win the girl (if the film is particularly radical, it may allow the girl to try to win the boy, or even maybe the boy to woo the boy. But the conservative form usually remains).
Let’s say from the off, this is not an exception, honourable or otherwise. But at least it’s ambitious in selecting its obstacle. The thing preventing Greg winning Maria is strangely not that he’s insufferably charmless but that the Lord our God is a jealous God, who isn’t keen on his promised brides being taken from him by an uppity journalist.
So, when Greg and Maria try to talk their voices are drowned out by the sounds of traffic, when they are about to kiss in a disco the electrics fuse setting the sprinklers off, when he tries to tell her he loves her he can only speak in Finnish, when he tries to follow her the shop that they’re in is blocked by a gate which no-one previously knew about. And if this is not enough, when Greg continues to pursue Maria, he is kidnapped, arrested, then develops a brain tumour the shape of Jesus on the Turin shroud.
Similarly, when Greg invites Maria up to his room, the locks of all the hotel rooms fail. But, no problem, Maria is an expert lock picker so they get in anyway, and spend the night together without any divine intervention. For the Lord our God is not just a jealous God, He’s also a fickle one who acts with no sense of rationality.
Der Göttliche Andere does have a couple of decent gags, but it’s let down by its lack of plausibility, not least in the idea that Maria would be prepared to give up Holy Orders for a conceited no-mark like Greg. There are films which can base their plot on Divine Intervention, and still have the consistency to pull it of. This is not one of those films.
Neither is it a film that tries very hard to develop its characters. As well as the Cynical Journalist and Pretty Italian Woman, Greg’s editor is a Black Woman with a Nose Ring, there is a Chatty Taxi Driver. And these are just the ones that I can remember. Most characters are given just one basic characteristic. Some are given none at all.
Having said that, people in my film showing laughed. More than once. I couldn’t tell you what it was that they were laughing at, so maybe its just me, but I struggle to accept that. Let’s just say that the biggest laugh was generated by Greg trying out his speech on how much he loves Maria on the Chatty Taxi Driver. He then gets so carried away that he kisses him. Because men kissing other men is really funny, right?
In a sense, writer and director Jan Schomburg dug his own grave. Maybe he’d have got away with a light romantic comedy. By making it about the existence of God, he introduced a seriousness and a level of importance that the film just doesn’t have. It seems to be trying to say Serious Things, but without the vocabulary to do this.
Towards the end, there is an attempt to justify Maria’s reluctance to enter the nunhood (or whatever the female equivalent of the priesthood is) by having one of the head nuns kill herself. But this – like the brain tumour – just comes over as being a tastelessly crass attempt to manipulate our emotions. Besides which, Maria had obviously fallen for Greg long before that happened, so it is all very much after the fact.
One last cavil before I go. The beautiful backdrop of Rome has the same effect as those films set in That London, where the hero dashes past Big Ben across the Humber Bridge to an appointment outside the Tate Modern. It’s there as touristy backdrop, aimed more to distract than to help the story. Besides, let’s face it, this story needs more than a few pretty pictures to save it.