The Collini Case

*****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

France Nero in The Collini Case
"A seamlessly crafted thriller with exemplary performances all round."

It has been a long time since Franco Nero got a role fully deserving of his talents. In Marco Kreuzpaintner's take on Ferdinand von Schirach's international bestseller, he shows that he's still got what it takes - even though, in the opening scenes, it's very difficult to tell what his character is thinking or feeling. The camera focuses closely on those steely blue eyes as he approaches his destination, a spacious glass-fronted office in an expensive looking building. There, he is greeted by elderly executive Hans Meyer (Manfred Zapatka), and though we don't directly witness what happens between them, it's not difficult to figure out - even before he staggers down into the lobby to announce it.

The 70-year-old German-Italian Fabrizio Collini offers no defence. He barely even speaks. Things look even worse for him when he is assigned earnest young lawyer Caspar Leinen (Elyas M'Barek), who, it turns out, spent his childhood in the Meyer household (debates over conflict of interest are addressed more successfully than you might expect). Acting for the prosecution is seasoned lawyer Richard Mattinger (Heiner Lauterbach), who taught Caspar at law school; and adding to the pressure is Caspar's childhood sweetheart, Johanna (Alexandra Maria Lara) - Meyer's granddaughter. the case seems to be sewn up from the beginning. But Caspar's devotion to his professional ethics is stronger than anyone expected, and when a chance remark about his personal circumstances prompts Collini to open up, he becomes convinced that there's more to the killing.

A seamlessly crafted thriller with exemplary performances all round, The Collini Case lives up to the promise of the novel and will delight fans of the crime mystery genre. It's beautifully shot, with cinematography by Jakub Bejnarowicz that really brings the locations to life, and Matz Müller's sound design keeps the mood perfectly balanced in combination with some particularly impressive work where musical elements overlap. As is common in the genre, it runs a little too slowly in places, with a tendency to sprawl, but this is easily indulged.

Given the timeless appearance of courtroom spaces, it may take viewers a little while to locate themselves and realise that this is in fact a period piece, set around the turn of the millenium - its most striking feature is the absence of mobile phones, though there are some nice observations around costume and interior décor. Schirach was interested in time and how characters move around within it. The youthful Caspar is only just beginning to understand that there's a world beyond the present, whilst Collini is frozen somewhere else, static in time just as he is in space, barely moving except when instructed to. When, towards the end, he begins to thaw, the effect is mesmerising.

There are aspects of the plot that won't come as much of a surprise to viewers, and there's been plenty of good work on these themes before, but The Collini Case has a specificity that gives it strength, and Kreuzpaintner makes good decisions about what to show and what not to show. In today's world it takes skill to remind us of what ought to be horrifying. Well placed reminders that the murder of Meyer was horrifying - and the result of a conscious decision - keep us, in turn, from getting too swept up in the emotional tide of the film and losing our critical faculties. Although he could easily have relied on emotion alone, Kreuzpaintner wants us to think, and seeks to address a more complex psychology.

Shortlisted for Germany's Oscar submission, this is a film that oozes quality yet never makes the mistake of hiding behind its technical excellence. It has something to say, and says it well.

Reviewed on: 03 Jun 2020
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A young lawyer stumbles upon a vast conspiracy while investigating a brutal murder case.
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Director: Marco Kreuzpaintner

Writer: Christian Zübert, Robert Gold

Starring: Elyas M'Barek, Alexandra Maria Lara, Heiner Lauterbach, Manfred Zapatka

Year: 2019

Runtime: 123 minutes

Country: Germany

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