|You are wrong if you believe that Germans don't make genre
movies. They do, and they do a lot, but not, or very seldom at least, for
the big screen. Police mysteries and thrillers are actually one of the staples
in German TV, the longest running series - "Tatort" - is a crime series featuring
different (and federally balanced) police detectives. Quality is generally
high and now and then there is a masterpiece, like Wolfang Petersen's
"Reifeprüfung" (with Nastassja Kinski) from the 70s or Dominik Graf's
"Frau Bu lacht" in the 90s. "Tatort" indeed has always been a platform for
budding movie directors, some of them - like Petersen - making it to the
big screen, others landing in TV movie hell, which begins just beyond "Tatort"
in commercial German TV. These TV mysteries - and we don't even start talking
about "Derrick" of infamous international fame here - certainly are genre
exercices, but as a rule they remain confined to a focus on detective
personalities, social issues and whodunit structure.
Paradoxically, these confinements have obviously been ingrained into
Germans' expectations of their films so much that they have become almost
allergic to homegrown thriller fare that reaches beyond these "Tatort" staples
and beyond the small screen. Some of the most resounding flops of the 90s
were expensive thrillers made by some of Germany's most prestigious directors
and figuring some of Germany's biggest stars, i.e. Dominik Graf's "Die Sieger"
(The Winners), a movie delivering on everything with the notable exception
of box office success, and Nico Hoffmann's "Solo für Klarinette"
(Clarinet Solo, 1998), a dark amour-fou-psychodrama-thriller melange
that certainly bit off more than it could chew. It was an honorable attempt
nonetheless, whose disappointing box office results stopped short not only
Nico Hofmann's directing ambitions (he is now a very successful producer),
but also made investors refrain from throwing their money (and there was
a lot of stupid money) at genre productions for some time.
Things arguably changed for the better with "Anatomie" (Anatomy, 2000),
a horror movie starring Franka Potente that was a huge success domestically,
with even some repercussions on international markets. In 2002 former "Tatort"
writer Robert Schwentke made "Tattoo", a thriller in the "Seven" vein that
was technically accomplished enough to land Schwentke a Hollywood directing
gig with Disney's Hitchcockian thriller "Flight Plan" starring Jodie Foster.
So now comes debutant Mennan Yapo, supported and produced by German director
wunderkind Tom Tykwer (Lola rennt, Run Lola Run), and does not fear to tread
where Jean-Pierre Melville and Luc Besson have made their impact in film
history. "Lautlos" (The Silent Killer) is a film about a professional killer
played by German star Joachim Król. Król is a rather surprising
choice, having played awkward and shy outsiders you pity rather than fear
for most of his career. He did not kill for this job, but he gave up the
very lucrative engagement as Commissare Brunetti in the German TV version
of million seller Donna Leon's mystery novels for his "Lautlos" role. He
trained for a half a year and truly is a leaner and - even - more menacing
version of his old self, to some degree.
The film opens with a scene of a murder. The killer manages to silently
murder a police investigator in front of the eyes and ears of an observation
crew without their even noticing it. The only thing that gets in the way
is the woman sleeping in the policeman's bed. He leaves her unscathed and
we soon realize that in these moments he has fallen for her. The movie soon
turns into the portrait of a killer with a crush on the woman he almost killed
and who, in turn, he even saves when she jumps from a bridge for no very
obvious reason. This is not the only cliché the script relies very
heavily upon, adding a dying father figure, a Eastern European evil master
mind, a smart profiler, a childhood trauma to this mixed and very crowded
bag of a story. The movie's most jarring weakness is in the script, with
dialogue that is clunky and would-be-laconic at the same time. All the actors,
with the exception of excellent Nadja Uhl, seem to be in serious trouble
making any emotional connection to the words coming out of their mouths.
The script, by the way, was written by already the second film critic turned
screenwriter within a year (after Tobias Kniebe with "Fremder Freund"),
Lars-Olav Beier, a genre buff now writing for Germany's leading news magazine
DER SPIEGEL (who, following a tradition with this magazine, has deteriorated
from an excellent analyst of genre film to a scribe who ostentatively and
haughtily loathes art film).
It comes as a surprise, then, that in spite of these considerable
downsides the movie still works most of the time. Mennan Yapo, a German director
of Turkish origin, certainly has made one of the most broodingly unfunny
movies you will meet in quite some time, but he very obviously knows what
he is doing, using almost unobtrusive style to create an atmosphere of cold
beauty. He is very ably supported in his endeavor by his set designer and,
above all, by cinematographer Torsten Lippstock who tends to leave backgrounds
out of focus in favor of what is immediately in front of his lense. And with
good reason: he imbues his pictures with a brownish tint that gives them
a painterly beauty in earthen colors, and he manages to conjure up a kind
of material yet transparent, palpable yet weightless light in his images.
I often wished I could just silence the dialogue and also the heavily technoid
score to just behold Lippstock's beauties lavishly wrapping an undeserving
story into an atmosphere that, in the end, even convinces you of mercifully
forgetting plot holes and plot convolutions, witless dialogue and a script
that never really comes together. Also, and this is no mean feat, when this
generally very low and brooding film decides to turn into real thriller gear,
it is very effective and makes you wish it did have a bit less on its mind
than it believes it has. The last murder, for example, is the most cruel
but also the only funny moment in "Lautlos", a film that should have let
the images speak for themselves. It is not so "lautlos" (silent) a movie
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