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Simon Read [Celluloid 07.28.09] movie review drama



Year: 2009
Directors: Thomas Sieben
Writers: Thomas Sieben & Christian Lyre
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: projectcyclops
Rating: 6 out of 10

Thomas Sieben's Distanz is a curious, stylish and enigmatic little film, about a quiet gardener called Daniel Bauer, who can't seem to shake the nasty habit he has for casual murder in his local park. The film begins with a montage of Bauer's daily routine at the botanical gardens where he works, we see him raking leaves and hosing down his tools, before heading to the park after work to lie in the sun and enjoy some peace, away from his demanding boss and the pretty secretary who makes eyes at him. Later that night he plays games on the bridge over a motorway, dropping stones onto the cars that pass below, which is our first hint that he's anything other than a shy loner.


Thing is, Bauer isn't a happy person. He sits alone in his flat, which is sparsely furnished and has no pictures or photos; no signs of personality other than the borrowed book about Tuscany, which he eagerly flips through. His life is repetitive, he's never had a girlfriend and he eats, sleeps and dreams of getting away. When his boss makes fun of him, he lashes out against other people, and those little stones he drops onto the cars soon graduate into very large rocks, which cause massive fatalities that he all but ignores, on hearing them reported on the radio the next morning. During a walk in the woods Bauer spots a hunting party and witnesses the shooting of a fox, he seems to take the animal's death personally and, after following the group to a hotel, he breaks into the back of their jeep and steals a rifle. Now Bauer's armed, there's no stopping him.

I love films about demented individuals, taking things into their own hands and getting revenge on an unfair society or hurtful colleagues. Who out there hasn't casually dreamed of blowing the head off their asshole boss; getting one back on the unfaithful lover or that backstabbing friend? We've all had these dark thoughts and filed them neatly under, 'Do not tell anyone you're this weird', or maybe it's just me... But regardless, there is a lot of voyeuristic fun to be had in viewing on-screen what people usually repress in real life. Bauer may choose his targets at random, but it's the act in itself which satisfies him, the release seems to work like the fix of a drug, he's okay for a while afterwards and the whole thing, while shocking to us, is as simple as a cigarette break for him. Neat and ordered, nothing personal.

That's the strong point for Distanz; it's a clever and generally well crafted look at one mans insanity, and the woman who naively tries to help him. However, there are serious shortfalls in depth and characterisation in the film. We know nothing of Daniel; where he comes from, where he's going, or what really drives him to these acts of madness. The dialogue is as sparse as his home, a deliberate move, I think, to keep intentions either mysterious or staunchly unimportant to the plot. Case in point; during several scenes which might have heralded exposition, the volume of the speech is turned down in favour of the rising, haunting score, and we're left to guess what Daniel and his new girlfriend Jana might be saying to one another during dinner, or what the boss really thinks of him while bitching behind his back. All this makes the film rather difficult to really enjoy. I'm happy to admit that it's slick, cool and detached, very much For Your Consideration, but it's not a film I'd personally root for. I don't like Daniel; I think he's selfish and his actions pointless. I see Jana in much the same light, and indeed their cruel boss Christian, who's sadly underused. Perhaps it's the 80 minute running time, but I feel the glimpse into these characters' world that we are afforded is not enough to connect with them and to create believable, explainable personalities, that we can grow to sympathise with and understand their motivations. Why, for instance, does Jana stay with him even after his secret is revealed? Why is Christian so defiantly horrible to him? Why is he doing what he's doing? When the blood flows and the gun-shots ring out, we need a little more understanding of the why's and the what for's.

Ultimately, Psycho Killer films really need an element of sympathy to work on a human level, otherwise they do sail close to the shores of nihilism and gratuitousness. I liked Patrick Bateman in American Psycho because he was funny and well rounded, and he took revenge on worthy people like Paul Allen. I engaged with the villainous Chris Wilton in Woody Allen's Match Point, because he had a mind blowing decision to make, and to carry through until the bitter end. I loved Gerard Johnson's psycho creation 'Tony', because he was so fragile and human, yet so demented and twisted. Daniel Bauer, in comparison, is just a lonely monster who deserves what he gets, but maybe that's the point?

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Kalle (9 years ago) Reply

Very good review. You nailed it with that final paragraph.


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