Under the Milky Way

Unter der Milchstrasse

Toronto Film Fest, Sep. 10, 1995–German director M.X. Oberg, who has helmed a number of shorts based on J.D. Salinger and Isaac Asimov's stories, makes a decent feature debut with Under the Milky Way, a mildly amiable comedy about the adventures of a young train attendant.

Technically, the film is more accomplished than other first efforts, but the pleasant narrative is too slight and not interesting enough to warrant commercial release beyond the director's country of origin.

The protagonist (Fabian Busch) is a rather naive student, who arrives in Munich just days before classes begin. Two concerns are on his mind, as he discloses in the opening, humorous narration: how to get a job and how to find a girl The former proves relatively easy, when he lands a job as a sleeping car attendant, traveling throughout Europe from one exciting country to another, while working mostly on the night trains.

In many respects, Under the Milky Way is a typical “train movie,” using its potentially romantic setting as a place where prosaic real-life happenings criss-cross with more exciting fantasy-adventures. Short, ordinary-looking, but camera-friendly, Busch delivers a charming performance as the initially naive employee, who's contrasted with his more savvy and cynical colleagues and supervisors.

Working the graveyard shift provides ample opportunities to learn the “tricks” of the trade. However, he still manages to maintain his compassionate humanism, when he lets a poor family with children stay in a compartment without paying. Structured as both real and metaphorical journey, pic's Italian sequences are particularly funny, as they contrast the differing German and Italian lifestyles.

Scenes at the university are less convincing, though it's here that the hero meets a charming classmate (Sophie Rois), with whom he gets romantically involved and spends some time at the lush house of her authoritarian grandparents, who're obsessive about neatness cleanliness.

For a first feature, technical credits, particularly Roger Heereman's handsome lensing of Florence and Naples, are more than O.K., contributing to a gratifying, if not terribly resonant or consequential, entertainment.