Director Visar Morina perfectly captures the uneasy dislocation of being a foreigner in a structured and comfortable society, using every frame to push us into a growing paranoia.
Xhafer (Misel Maticevic) is a chemical engineer in a bland and characterless German workplace. He is from Kosovo and is constantly reminded of this otherness, through colleagues leaving him out of important emails, not being able to pronounce his name and withholding essential information from him. It is not helped by the sporadic appearance of dead rats at his home, perhaps taken from his workplace, and his wife Nora’s (Sandra Hüller who was so brilliant in Toni Erdmann (2016)) increasing exhaustion and frustration at juggling three children and a PhD.
Morina places us irrevocably inside the head of Xhafer, using point of view and exquisite framing to emphasise his growing paranoia. We are never quite sure where the truth lies but we follow Xhafer’s purposeful stride, sometimes just behind his sweaty neck or caught with him in his car as he watches the objects of his distrust from a distance. He is often visually separated from those around him by a doorway, or bath or window frame. Sometimes he is claustrophobically close, forced into proximity with people who, to us, look just like him. The consistency of the point of view also means that we are unsure of what is coming, something that slowly ratchets up the tension.
To a non-European audience, it is an interesting representation of otherness as Xhafer’s difference to the Germans around him seems minor. What we learn, through Xhafer’s interaction with his colleagues, with Nora and with Hatiqe (Flonja Kodheli), an Albanian cleaner at his work who he has a connection with, it is never as simple as that.
Xhafer carries with him the damage of a traumatic past and he lives in a world that seems to define his masculinity into something that is toxic under threat. He has endless patience for his children but none for Hatiqe. He is a victim in his own life, oblivious to his privilege. As Nora says, “maybe it’s not because you’re a foreigner, maybe it’s because you’re an asshole” and this is exactly the complexity that Morina is creating. Is it just that or is he really being victimised?
Not everyone will love the ending as there is a lot that is left unexplained and unresolved. Just soak up the beautiful symmetry in the structure and Xhafer’s movements in his world, where he seems perennially on the outside.
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