Review: Next Door
- BERLINALE 2021: In Daniel Brühl's directorial debut, the German-Spanish actor's self-deprecating humour is spot-on
Popular German-Spanish actor Daniel Brühl (the TV series The Alienist, Rush [+see also:
film profile], Good Bye Lenin! [+see also:
interview: Wolfgang Becker
film profile]) is presenting his debut feature, Next Door [+see also:
interview: Daniel Brühl
film profile], in the main competitive section of this year's Berlinale. Based on an idea by the director himself and penned by Daniel Kehlman, the film follows an actor called Daniel (played by Brühl), who lives in a modern loft apartment in Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg district with his wife (Aenne Schwarz) and a nanny taking care of their children. On a summer’s day, Daniel readies himself for an audition in London – probably for an important part in a superhero flick – and, before reaching the airport, he stops off at a familiar bar on the corner. There, a mysterious man called Bruno (Peter Kurth) is sitting, waiting for him.
Brühl does not hesitate to show off some self-deprecating humour when playing his character: just like him, Daniel is a famous actor, he speaks English, German and Spanish, he is accustomed to a fancy lifestyle and enjoys the presence of his fans. He appears like an (overly) confident man, professionally accomplished and aware of his social prestige. Bruno is Daniel's neighbour and an eternally overlooked man, now doing a modest job just to get by. Their first interaction is only the beginning of a tense confrontation, which will touch upon different themes, such as gentrification, East and West Germany, work, marriage, family and social hypocrisy. The two leads' conflict is well played throughout the film and constantly oscillates between feelings of hatred, complicity and fear. Thankfully, in their dialogues, the social-critique subtext concerning today's Germany is well dosed and not too preponderant. What emerges powerfully, instead, is how our public image may significantly differ from our actual private life, and how many small and big “private tragedies” are lying in wait to destroy our self-image in the blink of an eye. One of these “small tragedies”, for example, takes place during a scene where a couple stops Brühl, asking to take a picture. Initially, the actor believes the woman is a fan of his who wants to take it with him, but he soon finds out – embarrassingly – that they want to be photographed by him. As soon as he walks away from the couple, we can hear them chuckling and wondering about his reaction.
Besides the commendable performances, the film's considerable depth emerges thanks to the razor-sharp dialogue, which allows both characters to grow and experience their own crescendo in an organic fashion. All of their confrontation happens a few metres away from a seemingly unaware pub owner (Rike Eckermann), who is not willing to interfere.
The ending possesses a tragicomic tone, which perhaps doesn't come as a surprise, but is still pleasant to watch. All in all, Next Door is a promising debut. Brühl's direction focuses on what he does best: acting and working with actors – and that's all he needs in order to deliver a rather compelling piece. Next Door is stylistically much closer to a one-act play by Anton Chekhov than a European drama film. The pub (the film's main location) serves as a vibrant stage set to host the two leads' fight as well as providing a microcosm of other characters.
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