I'm Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago (2015)

© 2015 Warner Bros. Ent.
© 2015 Warner Bros. Ent.
Directed by Julia von Heinz

I'm Off Then is based on the bestselling book written by the German actor and comedian Hape Kerkeling, which details his journey across the French Alps to the shrine of St. James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain — the pilgrimage known for attracting thousands of people every year, with its long and arduous route enabling travelers to reflect on their lives and faith. With his busy schedule, taking on this trip may be the last thing on Kerkeling's mind. Overworked and overweight, he is at a point of his career where he cannot afford to rest, where the only way to go is forward, and where his success doesn't seem to be more than anything than his own. The decades of neglecting his health and pushing himself to the limit have finally taken its toll on him, and embarking on this pilgrimage and submitting himself to weeks of walking and hiking might just well provide the answers to his mental and spiritual troubles.

And the film, with its mix of gentle humor and life-affirming reflections, shows that it does. Right at the beginning it's clear that the director Julia von Heinz wants Kerkeling's experience to be inspiring, letting the narrative flow with an almost equal regard for both the journey and destination. His interactions with the two women he befriends along the way, a young journalist and a grieving mother, add nuances to his personality, humanizing him outside the glitzy and hectic world of his show business life. Inserted in between are flashbacks that serve as meaningful distractions, the film being a document of his life in the vein of biopics but without the epic scale and with much more specificity. I'm Off Then is unapologetic in its religious instruction, dwelling more on accepted values than challenging them. And the way Kerkeling's "house of cards built out of realizations" revels in optimism leaves the viewer with a fresh, good feeling. Despite the cloying sentimentality of it all, there is wisdom in being open to this chosen path. Devid Striesow as Kerkeling keeps everything steady and fills the screen with undeniable charm.

by Richard Bolisay