Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"Nölle's greatest achievement is to keep the magic realist realm firmly anchored to the real so that reality feels touched by imagination rather than smothered by it."

There have been loner private eyes before, people like The Conversation's Harry Caul, who keep others at arm's length. But Tobias Nölle's Aloys Adorn (Georg Friedrich) is even more fragile than that, lonely in a way that feels stifling, less in control of his isolation than pushed out somehow from the rest of the world. The fact that he causes few ripples makes him good at his job, able to slip into the fringes of adulterers' lives unnoticed.

When we see him on a station platform or walking across the concrete precinct in front of his towering apartment block, Nölle's framing is immaculate, as though the world has retracted from Aloys, drawing back from this silent figure whose pencil moustache even has the air of half-hearted melancholy.

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To make his isolation complete, we meet him immediately after the death of his father, who was also his business partner and housemate - Aloys can't quite bring himself to give up the use of the word 'we' when answering his phone. He sees life through the prism of his camera, preferring to film a neighbour through his front door spyhole and watch the footage later than actually interact. Imagine then, his anguish when after falling asleep on a bus, he wakens to find his tapes stolen.

Nölle steps into Aloys' psyche via the medium of the mobile phone. A mysterious woman calls the PI to say she has the tapes and will give them back only if he goes "phone walking" with her - essentially a technique whereby he is forced to imagine himself somewhere else, in this case a mossy woodland, with the mystery caller. The contrast between the cold, unforgiving damp of reality and the more welcoming lush wetness of the woodland is beautifully realised by Nölle as the real and the imagined start to blur in Aloys' mind.

The second half of the film, in which two lonely souls struggle to find a connection that isn't simply over the ether is loosely played by Nölle but no less compelling for that. Friedrich is a fascinatingly intense actor, showing here and in recent feature Wild that he is able to inhabit those borderline emotional spaces, between care and lasciviousness or hovering between fear and curiosity.

He and Nölle do more than simply study Aloys' character, plunging us, instead, right inside his psychological landscape and if his neighbour (Tilde von Overbeck) seems a little bit too kooky for her own good, this is as much because of the way that Aloys imagines her as it is a product of the woman herself.

Nölle's greatest achievement is to keep the magic realist realm firmly anchored to the real so that reality feels touched by imagination rather than smothered by it. Both a study of the intricacies of modern loneliness and a showcase for Nölle's technical prowess, this is a genre-defying curiosity that marks its director out as a name to watch.

Reviewed on: 02 Jul 2016
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A private investigator is drawn into a mind game by a mysterious woman.
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Director: Tobias Nölle

Writer: Tobias Nölle

Starring: Georg Friedrich, Tilde von Overbeck, Kamil Krejcí, Yufei Li, Koi Lee, Sebastian Krähenbühl, Karl Friedrich, Peter Zumstein, Agnes Lampkin, Rahel Hubacher, Haroldo Simao, Tobias Bienz, Aaron Hitz, Barblin Leggio-Hänseler, Benjamin Merz

Year: 2016

Runtime: 91 minutes

Country: Switzerland, France

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The Conversation