Review by Sean Boelman
With his self-referential comedic thriller Next Door, actor Daniel Brühl has made an intriguing directorial debut that earns him the title of multi-talented. And although the film peaks relatively early, strong performances and a mostly sharp script make this an involving and unexpectedly funny watch.
The movie follows an actor who is preparing for the audition of a lifetime when he encounters a man in a pub who has different intentions for how his day will go down. It’s a battle of wits, and Daniel Kehlmann’s script keeps the audience guessing in a way that will keep them hooked on the story as it unfolds.
Ultimately, the biggest issue with the film is that Kehlmann reveals his hand too soon. For much of the first hour, things slowly fall into place before they finally click heading into the third act. And while Kehlmann should be applauded for not wrapping everything up overly nicely, the resolution still feels a bit prolonged.
On its surface, the movie explores ideas of selling out and maintaining a family life while existing in the spotlight, but there is also something going on that is deeper and much more interesting. These political themes like the division between East and West Berliners might be a bit too culturally-specific to be widely understood, but will have a thought-provoking effect at the least.
Kehlmann also does some very interesting character work here. The film blurs the lines between right and wrong. At first, it seems like this is going to be a celebrity versus stalker situation, but it soon becomes clear that there is more to the situation than that. By playing with our perceptions of fame and fandom, Kehlmann creates a fascinating scenario.
Brühl does double duty in the movie, playing the lead role in addition to his responsibilities behind the camera. His performance is great, although it likely helps that he is playing a seemingly exaggerated version of himself (a respected character actor preparing to play the villain in a superhero movie). Peter Kurth’s turn is also strong as Brühl’s foil.
For the most part, the film is set in and around the bar, but there are still some interesting things done in the execution. Brühl seems to have approached this first with an eye for the performances, and then for the tension, with close camerawork and detailed blocking going a long way in keeping the viewer in suspense.
Next Door is a strong debut from Daniel Brühl, although the cultural specificity of the script may hold it back from widespread adoration. Still, it’s an entertaining and thought-provoking movie that signals the arrival of a developing talent on the scene.
Next Door is now screening as a part of the Berlinale Industry Event, running virtually from March 1-5, 2021.
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