Some have money, others need patience. “Hands on Hardbody” is the name of the competition that a Texan car dealership held regularly years ago. The participants stood around a pick-up truck and touched it with their hands, taking a five-minute break every hour and 15 minutes every six hours.
Whoever stayed the longest without taking their hand away won the truck. The contest record was 125 hours before tragedy struck in 2005 when a contestant committed suicide.
“Don’t kid yourself,” says Kevin (Jesse C. Boyd) to Kyle (Joe Cole) in Bastian Gunther’s feature film, which is based on those true events. “Even if you win, you’re still the idiot who stands by a truck for days because you can’t afford it.”
It’s the perversion of the American Dream. You can make it in capitalism without capital, but weakness is not an option. Those who have been left behind, the white trash as well as the blacks, who also feel the racism of the pick-up truck, want to participate in the consumer society. All they can do is persevere – to the amusement of those who are a little better off watching them.
Survival of the fittest, and all around, in the car dealer’s parking lot, there is a folk festival atmosphere. With cocktails, live music, the reporters from the regional broadcaster and the brave car dealership employee Joan (Carrie Preston), who explains the rules via megaphone and constantly spreads a good mood.
In the center of the hustle and bustle is the blue truck under the tent roof, surrounded by the 20 participants. Six hours, 16 hours, 40 hours, there is something magical about the laying on of hands. On the third day things get critical.
Even the psychodynamics of the “hands on” circle bring the mechanisms of the meritocracy to light: strategies for success and a brusque mentality, overconfidence, delusions, breakdowns. But team spirit and corporate identity also make their mark in the round of candidates.
Ruthie (Lynn Ashe) reads from the Bible, Walter has a urine bag on his leg, fast food seller Kyle wants to offer his young wife and baby something better. One seals himself off with headphones, another terrorizes the competition with aggro slogans, Kevin wants to secure victory with lousy tricks. But they also sing together, together they stretch their legs and, in the advanced stage, see each other laughing together.
Bastian Günther, who lives in Berlin and Austin, Texas, has already dealt with the excesses of the American Dream in films such as “Houston” and “California City”. “One of These Days” premiered in the Berlinale Panorama in 2020, Günther calls the film “a chamber play in a parking lot”. It is a drama that tells of the origin of violence from repeatedly disappointed hopes, of the temptations and dangers of unsustainable promises of happiness. And of a divided America: There are those who have cars or sell cars and those who are not considered creditworthy and are subject to voyeurism and malice.
In a flashback, Kyle is walking home with diaper packages and grocery bags because his junk car won’t start again. Worse than the walk are the wordless humiliations when his cousin runs into him and a cop stops him. Who walks in the US?
One of These Days is set in the world of K-Marts and supermarket parking lots, plastic pools and crouching shantytown homes. The inhospitable nature of the real world: jerky camera pans à la Google Street View and close-ups of the everyday faces of the losers in wealth add rhythm to the narrative.
Until she focuses on two protagonists. To Kyle, who is also the subject of the final flashback, to the days when he applied for “Hands On”, when hope for his small family was not yet gone and he wrested small, modest moments of happiness from the present. And Joan, who also cares for her mother who has dementia, longs for a man and tries online dating. She hides her loneliness behind her permanent smile (it’s great how actress Carrie Preston embodies the “Yes we can” America, one constantly suspects the brittleness of her facade). Until the pep talks no longer help Joan either.