Review: Mein Blind Date with the Life (2017)

Mein Blind Date with the Life (2017)

Directed by: Marc Rothemund | 110 minutes | biography, comedy, drama | Actors: Kostja Ullmann, Ludger Pistor, Nilam Farooq, Anna Maria Mühe, Jacob Matschenz, Johann von Bülow, Herbert Forthuber, Uwe Preuss, Alexander Held, Kida Khodr Ramadan, Michael A. Grimm, Rouven Blessing, Rainer Reiners, Henry Buchmann, Samira El Ouassili

Due to a genetic eye defect, Saliya Kahawatte – son of a German mother and a Sri Lankan father – became 95 percent blind at the age of 15. Go-getter Saliya was not deterred by his handicap; he had to and would finish his education (he did this by training his memory and tamping the teaching materials by ear) and look for a job. For years Saliya worked as a bartender, without anyone knowing that he was virtually blind; he recognized bottles of liquor by touch. He wrote an autobiography about his experiences; Kahawatte’s memoirs sold like hot cakes. Now there is also a film about his remarkable life, ‘Mein Blind Date mit dem Leben’ (2017), directed by Marc Rothemund, the man behind ‘Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage’ (2005) and ‘The girl with the nine wigs’ (2013). The leading role is for the German-Indian actor Kostja Ullmann, who we previously saw in a supporting role in Anton Corbijn’s ‘A Most Wanted Man’ from 2014.

At the beginning of the film we see Saliya as a boy for whom everything is going well in life: he gets good grades in school, has many friends and looks good. He dreams of working in the hotel industry, preferably at the prestigious Bayerischer Hof hotel in Munich. The higher hotel school is his goal after graduation. But then disaster strikes… Saliya has problems with his sight. At first it’s just a gray spot in his field of vision, but his vision gets progressively worse. A doctor tells him that he has a rare eye defect and that he is slowly going blind. Dream shattered, you might think. But Saliya is not easy to catch. With all his might he wants to finish his school, with a little help from his older sister Sheela (Nilam Farooq) he succeeds. The next step is to be accepted at the Bayerischer Hof. The job interview is meticulously prepared (not only does Saliya learn the complete history of the hotel by heart in order to make a good impression, he also imprints the number of steps from place A to place B in the building in his head. Because Saliya does not intend to to say in his application that he only sees for five percent…

And yes, he is accepted. Together with a group of other newbies – including Max (Jacob Matschenz), a flier who landed a contract with more luck than wisdom – Saliya learns all aspects of the hotel business. So he has to clean rooms (he cleans mirrors with a magnifying glass), deliver room service (he is literally blind to a naked hotel guest who tries to seduce him), work in the kitchen (where he shoots the cutting machine), set tables in the restaurant (which logically doesn’t go that fast) and bar services (with the strict teacher Kleinschmidt (Johann von Bülow) keeping a close eye on him). Everything is done by touch, by routine (counting steps) and by ear. He also gets a little help from Max, whom he quickly confides in, and dishwasher Hamid (Kida Khodr Ramadan), who was a surgeon in his hometown of Kabul and manages to ‘unmask’ him with his medical insight. They keep Saliya hand over head, because they see how much he wants to make his dream come true.

It’s that you know that Saliya Kahawatte really exists and has actually managed to hide his limited eyesight from his surroundings for years, otherwise the story of ‘Mein Blind Date mit dem Leben’ would not have been too believable. Although, of course, a lot has been made up for the film. Director Marc Rothemund tries to make it visible (!) to the viewer what Saliya sees. He does this by sliding milky filters over the image, so that the viewer only sees shadows. In addition, he uses tricks with sound: for example, making background sounds extra loud, so that the focus is more on them (for Saliya, sounds also predominate). These tricks allow us to put ourselves reasonably in Saliya’s situation, even if the character itself remains quite superficial. That actually applies to the entire film; the light-hearted accumulation of comical and awkward situations is certainly entertaining, but who exactly these people are remains unclear. In general, that doesn’t bother us, but at times it frustrates us that we don’t see more. For example, the whole storyline around Saliya’s father begs for deepening, but we don’t get it. Scenes in which the approach is more subtle, such as during Saliya’s intimate dinner with the charming farmer’s daughter Laura (Anna Maria Mühe), show how this film could also have been.

Airy, cheerful and charming; all labels that you can stick on ‘Mein Blind Date mit dem Leben’. This German feel-good film looks nice and regularly makes the corners of the mouth curl up. However, the lack of subtlety and depth means that the film does not fully realize the potential of Saliya Kahawatte’s remarkable life story.

Comments are closed.