Nebenan – Daniel Brühl’s directorial debut premieres at Berlinale (review)

Nebenan – Daniel Brühl’s directorial debut premieres at Berlinale (review)

Berlin, the Prenzlauer Berg district. When this summer day is over, nothing will ever be the same again. Only Daniel doesn’t know that yet. The protagonist of this tragicomic scenario is as unsuspecting as he is accustomed to success. His loft apartment is stylish and so is his wife, and nanny has the children under control. Everything is tip-top, bilingual and ready for him to jet off to an audition where a role in a superhero film awaits the celebrated German-Spanish actor. Popping into the bar on the corner, he finds Bruno sitting there. As transpires by the minute, Bruno has been waiting for this moment for a long time. And so this eternally overlooked man – one of reunification’s losers and a victim of the gentrification of what was once East Berlin – takes his revenge. With Daniel as his target.

Based on an idea by the director and written by Daniel Kehlmann, the script combines razor-sharp dialogue with oddball bar-room banter. Most of the film is set on the same location and the aesthetic is that of a theater play, even if the script was written directly for the big screen, with rather poor cinematography and aesthetics, probably ideal though to be shot during the pandemic due to the logistics nighmare that most films with complicated sets and locations ans big casts face.

The interpretations of the characters of Peter Kurth and Daniel Brühl are spot-on. For Kurth, that is probably because he is playing a role of an East German person, kind of uncomfortable with how things are now in modern capitalistic Germany (we saw him in In the Aisles on a similar character). For Brühl on the other hand, it’s even more straightforward, because it seems like he is playing himself: a Berlin based German-Spanish actor, successful, rich, playing in what looks like a Marvel movie and trying to get more information on the villain of the film, as he only got a single page of the script to prepare for the casting. Bruno constantly criticizes the career of his peer, that looks more and more like it’s the career of Brühl himself, as a stasi-drama is mentioned that could easily be “Goodbye Lenin”. Brühl himself seems to enjoy this part, looking back on his career with humor and self sarcasm. 

The crash of the two different societies that the two men represent works really good in the first part of the film that feels like a dark comedy on single location. But as the film progresses the conversation moves almost exclusively on the so-coined “revenge” of Bruno, that is as spectacular as dull to watch. Ultimately the good intentions of the film are lost in cliches for both characters that are starting to feel as caricatures of themselves, just there to serve the comedic purposes of the script.

Grade: 1.5/5

Directed by: Daniel Brühl
Screenplay: Daniel Kehlmann
with Daniel Brühl, Peter Kurth, Rike Eckermann, Aenne Schwarz, Gode Benedix
Country: Germany, Year: 2021
Rutime: 92 minutes

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