By Maike Nagelschmitz
Everyone has certainly had a little holiday flirt. Most of the time you never see each other again after that, but you often stay in touch and sometimes even more of it. But what would you do if your holiday acquaintance suddenly revealed to you that you were HIV positive? Director Detlef Buck wanted to make a film about "real, tangible love" and dared to tackle the taboo subject of AIDS: In his drama "Same Same But Different" he filmed a true story based on Benjamin's novel "Wherever you go". Tester.
The plot: After graduating from high school, the buddies Ben and Ed travel to Cambodia as backpackers. On the search for freedom, the right thrill through drugs and parties in wicked clubs, Ben meets the pretty bar girl Sreykeo. They spend the night together, but bitter disillusionment follows the next morning: Sreykeo demands money from Ben, which she needs to feed her poor family. But over the next few days, the two meet again and again and although Sreykeo lives in a completely different world, Ben is fascinated by her.
A few days later, Ed flies back to Germany as planned - without Ben. Because he wants to stay with his Sreykeo in Cambodia, despite all resistance. But at some point he runs out of money, so he has to go back home as well. But he can't forget Sreykeo: he calls his girlfriend every day and to save her from working as a bar girl, he regularly sends her money. But then the shock: After a doctor's visit, Sreykeo tells him via webcam that he is HIV positive.
Instead of ending the short relationship, Ben makes a decision: he wants to help Sreykeo and sets off again for Cambodia. There he lives in the run-down block of flats 'La Building' in a confined space with Sreykeo and her family and really sacrifices himself for the sick girl: In order to help her, he uses a trick to get her high-quality medicines and even accepts it, his own losing savings. However, when her family asks for more and more money, even asking him to build a house and Ben feels more and more taken advantage of by Sreykeo, he has to make a difficult decision…
If you don't know the book and only read a brief synopsis of the plot, you might expect a young Romeo to sacrifice himself for his ailing Juliet. But that's exactly what "Same Same But Different" doesn't deliver and that's a good thing. Because the fact that the story never slips too much into the sentimental makes it really authentic. Sreykeo is not a princess rescued by a rich prince, but a poor prostitute who falls in love with a penniless high school graduate from Germany. Although he helps her, he cannot miraculously cure her of her illness. This is made very clear more than once in the film.
With Ben you often get the impression that love really is blind. He allows himself to be exploited by Sreykeo and especially her mother: Sreykeo's mother gambles away all the money, the father would like to marry his daughter off immediately to the 'rich German' and of course doesn't want to miss out himself. As a viewer, one would like to shake Ben until he comes to his senses. But Alpinya Sakuljaroensuk plays Sreykeo so convincingly that you can understand why Ben does almost everything for her. Detlef Buck, who has already worked with David Kross in "Knallhart", hit the bull's eye here with the casting of the main roles. The young actor convinces as a young Ben and harmonizes so well with his film partner Alpinya Sakuljaroensuk that the two can without a doubt pass as an unusual couple. The authenticity and the convincing actors make up for the fact that the film unfortunately lacks dramaturgical highlights.
Life in Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh is portrayed so faithfully that you almost get the feeling of being there yourself: Noisy and smelly motor scooters, garbage and dirt, begging children and dilapidated houses. Not to be forgotten are the many AIDS patients in Cambodia, the often careless handling of the immune deficiency and the problems of medical care. The depiction of wide rice fields, a life far away from civilization and the hard work of Sreykeo's relatives in the country form the counterpart to this. This is how “Same Same But Different” becomes a visually stunning work that makes you think, but never comes across as a documentary.
The garish images and the often shrill music that really dominates some scenes are certainly a matter of taste, but all in all director Detlef Buck has managed to create an authentic drama. It was not for nothing that the film received the 'Variety Piazza Grande Award' at the Locarno International Film Festival. Certainly not a shallow Saturday night popcorn cinema, but anyone who wants to get involved in a challenging and, above all, different story should not miss "Same Same But Different".