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Light Gradient (DVD Review)

30 Oct, 2010 By: Billy Gil

Prebook 10/12/10; Street 11/9/10
$24.99 DVD
Not rated.
In German with English subtitles.

Rückenwind (which means “tailwind” in German, but is translated to “light gradient” for English-speaking audiences) uses a cinéma verité approach to tell the story of two gay hikers wandering through the German countryside.

In the beginning, dark-haired Johann is seen at some sort of facility in which it’s clear something troubling has happened to him. From there we are quickly sent into a flashback in which he and blonde companion Robin ride their bikes through the country in a seemingly aimless backpacking trip.

Their trip gets more interesting once their bikes disappear and they’re left foraging. As viewers, we’re not sure how to feel about them or their relationship — they resort to practically mugging a couple of older bikers in the woods, and end up on a farm with a lone mother and son, who take them in and develop further ambiguous relationships with the duo.

In one scene Robin kisses Johann and spreads mud on his body as he is half asleep in the woods. If that doesn’t sound sexy, it isn’t really — gay film fans looking for European naughtiness will find only a few tastefully shot scenes of nudity and one actual sex scene, in which only sounds are heard and instead we see images of wildlife on the farm as the day is breaking.

At a scant 75 minutes, with minimal dialogue, it’s hard to know what to make of Light Gradient. It presents somewhat of a dreamlike fantasy of a life unbound by common trappings, physical or otherwise, but also in a similarly realistic fashion to such films as Agnes Varda’s Vagabond, which detailed a homeless woman’s wanderings in the French countryside. But its underlying conflict pitting Johann and Robin as a fabled fox and hare, each trying to outwit the other in the hunt, seems undercooked. With development, that theme could have made Light Gradient into more than a series of seductively shot scenes.

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