Next Door

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Next Door
"Scriptwriter Daniel Kehlmann has tailored the role to fit the star like a sharp suit."

Although Daniel Brühl didn't write the script for his directorial debut he did have the original idea for it and he is surely bringing more than a little bit of his real self to the role of his highly polished actor, also called Daniel. Scriptwriter Daniel Kehlmann, meanwhile, has tailored the role to fit the star like a sharp suit in terms of the character's CV, which features both franchise work and an early "Stasi comedy" that sounds an awful lot like Good Bye Lenin.

This fictionalised Daniel is living what appears to be an inch-perfect life, from the immaculate healthy breakfast he eats in his impossibly beautiful Berlin apartment, to the loving wife (Aenne Schwartz) he leaves in bed and his sons who are being smoothly shepherded by his nanny Conchita. He's heading to London to audition for an English-language role in something that sounds a lot like a superhero movie, although all he has is a single page of the script - his delivery of portentous lines from which punctuates the film. The first crimp in Daniel's day is so small you would barely notice, just his car coming too early to take him to his flight. He decides on a whim to go for coffee in a local bar, a choice he will come to regret. It's there he meets Bruno (Peter Kurth, who incidentally also appeared in Good By Lenin), a man who seems to think he should be on the star's radar but isn't.

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It's a typical "world's collide" set-up, with Daniel the gentrified incomer and Bruno a former East German Berliner who has found his family displaced. This, among other things, is revealed by degrees as the men's chat becomes increasingly psychological and strained. What could have become a stuffy chamber piece is given plenty of impetus by the pace at which events move and the deft level of humour employed by Kehlmann. Daniel might consider himself a "busy man" - while we can see he is clearly "up himself" - so it's enjoyable to watch his veneer start to crack.

In between intense back and forths between the two men, Brühl makes sure he injects some movement, by whisking Daniel outside for his many phone calls which - in surely a little bit of showboating by the actor/director himself - take place in three languages, Spanish, English and German. There's also some satirical sideswiping about this sort of moneyed incomer who, even when he is told he has been calling the pub owner (Ricke Eckerman) by the wrong name for years, fails to ask her what the right one is. Daniel may, from a certain angle, be "the victim" here but there is no sense of him being left off the hook.

The tension builds almost imperceptibly at first, as Bruno fails to react in the cap-doffing way Daniel is used to, before the film slips into a battle of dualling wills. There's a air of simmering anger about Bruno that contrasts with the more performative Daniel, who can turn on the tears for show, that heightens the sense of societal division. If the screenplay ultimately pulls its punches a little in terms of exploring the impact of gentrification on neighbourhoods as well as neighbours and requires perhaps one too many manipulations, it nevertheless provides a perfect showcase for the two actors and plenty of dark humour along the way. The craftsmanship in general is noticeably good, from the framing from Brühl and cinematographer Jens Harant, to the drum-driven score from Moritz Friedrich and Jakob Grunert, which along with strong sound design, helps add to the tension.

Reviewed on: 29 Sep 2021
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Next Door packshot
An actor finds his perfect life is less idyllic than he thought after he starts a conversation with a stranger in a bar.

Director: Daniel Brühl

Writer: Daniel Kehlmann

Starring: Daniel Brühl, Peter Kurth, Rike Eckermann, Aenne Schwarz, Gode Benedix, Vicky Krieps, Mex Schlüpfer, Stefan Scheumann, Arne Duppler, Nils Dörgeloh

Year: 2021

Runtime: 92 minutes

Country: Germany

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