Sunday, October 20, 2013


NORDSTRAND                     B
aka:  North Beach                   
Germany  (89 mi)  2013  d:  Florian Eichinger  Website        Trailer

Something of a self-taught filmmaker, Eichinger began his career as an editor, but soon produced several shorts, also directing one, and used money earned from making commercials to finance BERGFEST (2008), his low-budget first feature, while NORDSTRAND is the second part of Eichinger's planned domestic violence trilogy.  Opening with just a touch of understated wry humor, two young boys, perhaps aged 9 and 6, left alone in their home steal a few sips from their father’s liquor cabinet, only for their parents to return where they innocently look like nothing has happened.  Their father peruses the liquor cabinet and pulls out 3 glasses, pouring each one a glass from the liquor they were drinking and encourages them to drink up.  Too startled to move, the kids sit frozen with fear.  When Mom enters the room, Dad waves her back out, claiming this was men’s business, and shuts the door in her face, which leads to the title sequence.  What follows is a brooding, slowly evolving character study of two long estranged brothers, Marten (Martin Schleiß) and Volker (Daniel Michel), returning to their abandoned childhood home by the North Sea coast where they are planning to spend a weekend together.  Both have led two distinctively separate lives, where Marten works in the music business and Volker designs computer programs, but Volker establishes right away that he’s not interested in discussing careers.  Using his big brother influence, Marten attempts to convince his brother to come with him when their mother is released from jail, where she has been since the death of their father, but Volker shuns that idea as well, claiming his only real interest is in selling the house, as he wants no further family connection with any of them. 

They’re seen eating together, mostly bread and cold cuts with beer, also hanging out at the frigid beach, where an old girlfriend Enna (Luise Berndt) informs Volker that she couldn’t wait any longer, and after never hearing from him in years, she finally married and has a child.  While their visit is cordial, it’s clear Enna may be the only person of interest remaining from Volker’s troubled past, as glimpses of flashback sequences show Volker continually being brutalized by his father while Marten and his Mom stood and watched from behind a door.  When Marten attempts to be sympathetic, Volker has no interest in being a victim anymore, claiming he’s moved on, finding nothing to be gained by dwelling on the past, which is why he has no emotional connection to the house, as it brought him no good memories.  In one of the more intriguing scenes of the film, Volker is paid a visit by an elderly neighbor, Frau Suhren (Martina Krauel, coming across like a true Fassbinder actress), who informs him that everyone has continued to talk about his family secrets and hidden childhood trauma long after he moved away, suggesting “Sometimes it’s impossible to free ourselves from these patterns on our own,” asking if he sees himself as a victim?  “Of course, but I don’t whine about it.  I want to look forward.”  Again, Volker wants no sympathy from this woman, who he sees as a prying old hag meddling in other people’s business, contending all she’s really interested in is her own agenda, which has nothing to do with him.  Be that as it may, and without blinking an eye, Frau Suhren informs him he’s hiding his real emotions behind a wall, and that he’s poisoning Enna’s relationship, which is her real interest, before turning and walking out the door.  It’s a stunning moment, as she sees right through him, mercilessly showing no fear of him whatsoever.

Deeply rooted resentments begin to surface between the brothers as painful memories crop up, where Marten is trying to find some semblance of the brother he once knew, but he’s completely shut out, like everybody else.  In a desperate measure, he plays an old LP record which is a light and breezy French recording of a song called “Paris Smiles,” hopping and jumping around as it plays, making sure his brother hears, as if there’s some emotional connection there which is never revealed, but Volker just sits typing away at his computer, putting on earplugs to block it all out, exactly as he is shutting out the rest of the world.  His oppressive nature is elevated when he takes Enna out to sea in a small rowboat, where she makes it clear to him that they are finished as a couple, so he pulls out the plug from the bottom drain, allowing water to rush in.  Despite her pleas, he refuses to budge, literally forcing the boat to sink with her in it, where she has to swim back to shore in the frigid water, angry at what an idiot he’s become.  There are beautifully austere moments where Marten runs alone on the seashore in a morning mist as grinding metal music plays on the soundtrack, producing an anguished scream. Shot by Andre Lex, the film is broodingly picturesque, a perfect backdrop for a blunt confrontation with a tragic past.  Sharply written and concisely edited, the drama between the two brothers comes alive with such bold lines of demarcation, where Volker is a walking time bomb of unleashed venom, perfectly capable of doing just about anything, as he seems incapable of expressing remorse.  Marten nearly kills himself trying to get through, but it feels reasonably clear that even if he died tomorrow, Volker would not be moved, as he really doesn’t care anymore.  The aggressiveness of his disdain for others is like a loaded gun.   Over the end credits, when we hear the French song again, this time it contemptuously stands for the weakness of the French, and his brother, and anybody else that’s not a true German. With this film Eichinger has created another young Franz Biberkopf from Fassbinder’s BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ (1980), something of a prelude to Fascism and becoming a Nazi, as Volker could easily be on a similar trajectory.

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