“Death Strip” mtvU film of the week

Ben Raymond

A film that lands first-place drama at the 29th College Television Awards should be pretty solid, right?

Safe bet, I think.

With hundreds of submissions from the country’s most gifted amateur filmmakers vying for top honors, one would expect the quality of the winning film to be through the roof.

One would be right.

“The Death Strip” by Nicole Haeusser and Ulrich Schwarz from UCLA is more than deserving of the aforesaid prize and an easy choice for my mtvU Best Film on Campus film of the week.

The story is set in the tumultuous streets of mid-’80s Berlin, cast under the last shadows of Soviet occupation.

Two young brothers fight for survival amid the crossfire in an impossible mad dash for freedom.

Their mother abducted by government officials and an entire army in dogged pursuit, sacrifice and loss soon mar their escape.

Years after the Wall crumbles, one brother returns to collect the pieces and salvage redemption.

Yes, it’s been done before. We’ve all seen it. An innocent, lederhosen-clad Bohemian boy escapes detection, wades through excrement, books it through the dystopia, reaches West Germany.

He apologizes for the Holocaust and lives happily ever after.

It goes something like that.

“The Death Strip” doesn’t exactly break free from this overused archetype.

Couple this with some sub-Keanu Reeves acting and you have the movie’s only two notable flaws.

And that’s all the time I’m going to spend on criticism.

Haeusser and Schwarz are naturals – there’s no two ways about it.

Visually, “The Death Strip” is immaculate.

The photography is razor-sharp. Eye color radiates; hair shines; streetlights buzz and flicker.

Haeusser and Schwarz’s direction is downright sexy.

I mean, it’s turns-me-on sexy.

Reminiscent of Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s lensing in “The Lives of Others,” the film moves with wicked moxy, ebbing and flowing effortlessly through a labyrinthine urban landscape.

But it’s the little touches that make their direction so remarkable.

Haeusser and Schwarz have such an innate sense of emotion, such a mutual devotion to capturing slight changes of posture or tension that it’s nearly impossible to believe they’re not weathered professionals.

All told, “The Death Strip” is phenomenal moviemaking at any level, student or professional.

Haeusser and Schwarz have a promising future ahead of them – especially if they continue to work in collaboration.

Their individual talents complement one another to create a sleek and expertly crafted film.

If we’re all lucky, more will come.

“The Death Strip” premieres on mtvU tomorrow.

To see the film in full and check out The Villanovan’s mtvU Web site, go to bestfilmoncampus.com.