Enlightenment Guaranteed directed by Doris Dörrie, written by Dörrie and Ruth Stadler, produced by Franz X. Gernstl, with Uwe Ochsenknecht, Gustav-Peter Wöhler, Anica Dobra, Ulrike Kriener and Heiner Lauterbach. 110 minutes. An Odeon Films release. Opens Friday (May 10). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 90. Rating: NNNenlightenment guaranteed is astudy in contrasts. It juxtaposes the placid minimalism of the German suburbs with Tokyo's neon lights and sensory overload, tradition and ritual with airplanes and camcorders, feng shui with campy karaoke.The story concerns mismatched brothers. The belligerent Uwe (Uwe Ochsenknecht) designs kitchens, takes cigarette breaks after his morning jog and is oblivious to the fact that his relationship with his wife and kids is crumbling. The other, Gustav (Gustav-Peter Wöhler), is a mildly obsessive feng shui consultant preparing to make a trip to a Buddhist monastery in search of inner peace.
When Uwe's wife leaves him, he falls apart and turns to his brother, and the two end up making the pilgrimage toward "enlightenment" together. In the process, they lose their passports, their cash and their way and have to reconstruct their identities from scratch in Tokyo before they finally reach Zen central.
Director Dörrie plays with the expected stranger-in-a-strange-land stereotypes and milks tons of visual gags out of the bumbling -- and relatively gargantuan -- whiter-than-white Germans navigating the hectic landscape of Japanese city life. (Their German karaoke version of I Will Survive is priceless.)
In spite of this, Enlightenment Guaranteed has a decidedly Zen vibe. The pace is leisurely and even lags a bit, particularly during the repetitive monastery sequences (I pretty much zoned out and focused on my mantra when the monks were doing their thing), and the rich rural landscape and stripped-down details are quite beautiful.
It's a gentle comedy, a drama of errors that doesn't hit you over the head with its message, and Dörrie's back-to-basics approach is almost Dogme in nature. The film is shot entirely on digital video and plays with self-reflexivity by having Uwe document his life with a hand-held camera, cleverly cutting between actual film footage and the video diary.
Most of the major revelations play out in Uwe's home video clips -- an interesting touch, although it's not entirely clear what Dörrie's getting at. The narcissistic nature of contemporary culture? Technology's tendency to distance people from their feelings? Whatever.
I came away from Enlightenment Guaranteed feeling well, somewhat enlightened and a hell of a lot more relaxed.SARAH LISS