Moonlanding is an effective immigrant story told at a frantic 21st century pace. Two brothers and their mother arrive in Germany after the grandma convinces them that they should leave Kazakhastan and head for the land of their ancestors.
Obviously things are not they way they expected. The father decides to stay behind and grandma is the only family member that can barely speak 19th-century German, and the family soon meets with disenchantment at a hard new life in a land as strange as the moon, barely squeezed in an apartment with everyone's beds separated by curtains and shelves acting as walls.
The two young brothers do their best to fit in the new society, each in their own way: the younger (Anton Levit) soon joins the local gangs, starting a gradual descent into the underworld, from playing loud music at midnight while drinking in the streets, to stealing and eventually drug trafficking. The older brother (Andrej Dronov) finds a job and meets a nice girl. He hides a guilty conscience about his shady teenage past and tries to become the male figure in a fatherless family. But things get out of control with his young brother before he can realize it.
Moonlanding is intense, and has a documentary feel of organic authenticity, which is rarely achieved on film. Nothing feels contrived. Save a for a couple of exceptions, director Till Endelmann used non-professional actors for the whole cast, including the leads, and the truth is that they do a terrific job in their roles. Most of them never seem to be acting; yet they all fit their parts perfectly. The performances alone are truly an extraordinary achievement in Moonlanding. The mise en scene complements the mood consistently. At times it feels like a Dogma 95 film, with the kinetic "dirty" hand-held camera and continuous jump cuts underscoring the feel of gritty realism.
If one had to complain about one thing only (because everything else works quite well) it would be that, despite the modern facade, the skeleton of the story is slightly linear and somehow predictable, among the roads paved by many other old-school immigrant movies. The very resolution of the piece is served a little too easy, lacking a dramatic punch for the closing. Then again the film is not so much about the originality of "what happens" but about "how it happens," like most episodes of real life. It would be an interesting debate whether the happy ending or the tragedy would have been more or less suitable for the movie's message: Making society aware of a social problem that needs to be addressed.
That said, the pace of the story is energetic, and breathless in its emotional build up. The last minutes manage to build a climax of true suspense and heart-stopping anxiety that end up in unavoidable violence.
Overall this is a remarkable debut by a director that (unlike most of his generation) is interested in dealing with social issues involving real people. The film is also one of the first to tackle the theme of Russian immigrants in modern Germany, and it succeeds all the way in engaging the audience from beginning to end. I truly recommend it.
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