- 1h 39min
Johannes, a new assistant at the university, is asked to provide reports on an Algerian colleague - who is suspected of being a sleeper. He refuses, but the seed of doubt has been planted. A fragile friendship which is overshadowed by professional and emotional competition eventually leads to betrayal. —Benjamin Heisenberg
A study in shades of ambiguity: 'Benjamin Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle'
This is a strange one, directed at a languid pace and with the cinematography often taking the form of set pieces at a distance, or shooting through things, and observing the characters as if they are flies forming a pattern on a window. Anyone who knows any modern Germans will know that there are types who are quiet, fastidious, contemplative, and silent, taking their satisfaction in non-communication and a kind of austere isolation. Such is the lead character in this film, Johannes Mehrveldt, played by Bastian Trost. Certainly it is easier to write a script for someone who says little, as you don't have to type so much dialogue. In this case, the script was written by the director, Benjamin Heisenberg, who although not a quantum physicist, had a father who was a Professor of Neurobiology. Presumably that is where he got the background for this film, which takes place mostly in a medical research lab where people are working on proteins, viruses, and infectious diseases. The title of the film refers to a 'sleeper' in the security sense, that is, a terrorist who has a normal job and is merely waiting for the opportunity to strike and create an outrage with a bomb or whatever. Trost (I wonder if he is related to the Romanian surrealist, Dolfi Trost, 1916-1966, some of whose rare publications I have collected) arrives at his new job in the lab, presided over by an arrogant professor who rarely speaks to the minions who work under him. Trost's work is closely allied with that of another young scientist who is already there, Farid Atabay, played by Mehdi Nebbou. Nebbou is half-Algerian and is the brother of the brilliant director Safy Nebbou (unknown whether male or female), who directed the wholly amazing ANGEL OF MINE (L'EMPREINTE DE L'ANGE, 2008, see my review) starring Catherine Frot and Sandrine Bonnaire, both in perhaps their most impressive form. Farid is some kind of Arab, we don't know what kind or from where. He too is mostly quiet and contemplative. He has some unexplained association with a rather wild German girl called Beate (played by Loretta Pflaum). She often furtively hugs and kisses Farid. Meanwhile, Trost has met her and fallen for her too. They have a kind of relationship, but it is far from satisfactory to Trost. He catches her crying over the obituary of someone in a newspaper, but she claims not to have known the man and gives no explanation. Everything about her is ambiguous and mysterious, including her relationship with Farid. We are told once in passing that her previous boyfriend had been an Iranian ('ein Iraner'). As we get to know Farid better, he too becomes increasingly mysterious, though at first he seems very open and genial. Early on, Trost is approached by a rather dour and dumpy woman from the German security services, who looks like she might be a cousin of 'Old Pudding-Face', that ultimate Hausfrau, Angela Merkel, whose very name brings a lump to my throat (or is that a dumpling that has got stuck and causes the choking sensation?) The dour woman tries to recruit Trost to spy on Farid because he is 'of interest'. Trost refuses. But things get murkier and murkier, as he and Farid and Beate sink into a kind of emotional despond of a triangular relationship which is so ambiguous that it is obvious that none of three of them really knows what it means. We are told that there has been a terrorist bomb outrage in Munich and the dour woman wants to know not only where Farid was on that evening, but where Trost was. So Trost agrees to spy on Farid after all, but does so very ineptly. Farid has one emotional outburst where he says in private to Trost that 'they' are profiling him, have collected documents of his whole life, and are clearly targeting him. Trost has little to say, as has been the case for the whole film. When he is not with Farid or Beate or both, he is back at his grandmother's house, where he looks after her as she is dying. There is a rather funereal atmosphere to this film, which moves slowly like a sleeper. The emptiness of the lives of Farid and Trost is shown by the fact that they spent so much time playing violent computer games. The camera dwells on the impassive but concentrating face of Farid as he kills imaginary people on screen. Once, Trost uncovers on Farid's desk a detailed map of a locality, as if it were a plan for a terrorist attack, but he quickly covers it up and does not wish to study it. All of the characters are entirely lost in a twilight of ambiguity, a life-fog, where they are sleep-walking. Is Farid really a terrorist? Certainly the security services are convinced that he is. Is Beate his accomplice? Was the man whose obituary in the paper we were not allowed to glimpse a terrorist who had just been killed and with whom Beate had been involved? Was her previous Iranian boyfriend someone who had recruited her and introduced her to Farid? As for Trost, does he believe in anything? He does not know. This film is interesting for those who have patience. Also, if you watch it, you will learn that the modern German expression for house-to-house fighting is Häuserkampf. I really didn't know that. I thought it meant two houses fighting with each other over disputed lawn space, in between writing about their plans for conquering the world (something the Hausfrau still seems to envisage, having already reduced Greece to a colony for instance). But everything in this film remains uncertain and is perturbed by the observers (security services), since it is impossible to know both the motives and the actions of any main character simultaneously, according to the director's Uncertainty Principle.
- Sep 26, 2013
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