The Interpreter

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Interpreter
"For the most part this is a lyrical and lightly handled odd couple road movie that achieves a subtle resonance, although it is almost scuppered by a sudden major tonal shift in the film's final act."

The Second World War's impact on the children of Nazi leaders has been examined in documentary before in My Nazi Legacy. Here, Martin Sulík explores the theme in a fictional context, considering the different but, potentially equally devastating, inheritance of the child of a victims of Nazi atrocities and the child of a father who ordered them.

Toni Erdmann star Peter Simonischek plays Georg Gruber, an ageing ladies man, as evidenced by a clinch with his cleaner, who receives an unexpected visitor. Ali Ungár (Czech New Wave director Jirí Menzel) has read a book by Georg's father, a former SS officer, and come to the realisation that the Austrian was responsible for the deaths of his own parents, prompting him to pay a call intent on revenge. Things don't go according to plan but verbal sparks fly between the two men.

Copy picture

The encounter awakens something in Georg, however, and he decides to pay Ali a return visit, enlisting him as a translator as he makes a 'tour' of the places his SS father wrote about. Although the pair are chalk and cheese, Ali senses the opportunity to perhaps find out more about his own family and the scene is set.

Sulik initially focuses on the comedy of the situation, with Ali's slightly stiff approach to life in stark contrast to Georg's old rogue as they encounter a couple of hitchhikers and flirtations and disapproval ensue. As the film progresses, its cello and piano-driven theme starts to sound more minor notes, mirrored by the story, which begins to consider the weight of history and the comparisons between those things that are remembered and left over and those that are forgotten or left behind.

Menzel and Simonischek have believable chemistry and though the characters may seem little more than 'types' initially, Sulik finds nuance in the way that both men have been shaped by their lives - one perhaps valuing connection so deeply because of what he lost early, while the other's vibrancy may mask a loneliness even he isn't fully aware of.

Cinematographer Martin Štrba pulls his camera away from the pair, emphasising the smallness of their stories in the grander scheme of things at the same time as we realise how big the events of their parents' lives have loomed in their own.

For the most part this is a lyrical and lightly handled odd couple road movie that achieves a subtle resonance, although it is almost scuppered by a sudden major tonal shift in the film's final act that descends like a sledgehammer on the careful crafting that has gone before - as though Sulik is worried we might not think he is taking things seriously enough. Despite this, there is a lot of finesse to this history lesson and enough indications of current conflict to nudge us into thinking about the importance of listening to history if we don't want it to have to repeat itself.

Reviewed on: 03 Apr 2018
Share this with others on...
The Interpreter packshot
An 80-year-old translator, Ali Ungár, comes across a book written by a former SS officer recounting his war experiences in Slovakia and realises that one of the chapters may well describe his own parents’ execution.

Director: Martin Šulík

Writer: Martin Šulík

Starring: Peter Simonischek, Jiří Menzel, Zuzana Mauréry, Anita Szvrcsek, Anna Rakovská

Year: 2018

Runtime: 113 minutes

Country: Slovak Republic, Czech Republic, Austria

Festivals:

BIFF 2018

Search database:


If you like this, try:

Men Don't Cry
My Nazi Legacy