By Ben Hooper.
Secrets resurface in this German drama of a family and city still haunted by their past.
One Night in Berlin sees a desperate young woman, Anna, reunite with her estranged and homeless father in a bid to escape their tragic history. As they journey through the city in search of a safe deposit box key, dodging police, prostitutes and skinhead thugs as they go, their complex relationship of secrets and lies unravels to an emotional climax.
Unfortunately, this intriguing story is marred by amateurish execution courtesy of an erratic sound mix and shoddy cinematography. Scenes are drained of tension by unnecessary, wonky nonsense and jerky zooms. Awkward jump cuts are also employed to hide the cracks in the filmmaking and then dressed up as New Wave pretensions.
Nevertheless, the narrative unfolds in an absorbing manner as the web of familial and political secrets slowly falls apart, and the impact of the climax may only have been dampened by my own lack of knowledge on the historical context. It would have been nice to see a deeper exploration of Anna’s situation – a grim cocktail of violence, drugs and prostitution – and with the film coming in at a slim 76 minutes, an additional five wouldn’t have tripped the pacing of the plot. Without more of an insight into Anna’s story, the narrative loses much of the sense of the danger she’s in.
The lead actors distinguish themselves admirably, providing an engaging and convincing chemistry between the two characters, but the rest of the cast may well have been pulled from a pool of extras on a soap opera.
The real star is the titular city – a sprawling nocturnal landscape that juxtaposes the skeletal remains of decomposing buildings, gothic ironwork, industrial steel, and the light and glass of urban modernism. This entrancing mix of architecture works as a narrative and historical metaphor, as the past comes crashing into the present. One particularly poignant shot, perhaps the best in the film, shows green plants striving to grow out of the cracks in graffitied walls; it’s a deft use of image, but overall this truly cinematic city deserves far more.
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