So, the logline is pretty bland – Woman’s husband and son are killed, so she goes after the killers.
However, a couple of things grabbed by interest about this picture:
It won the Cannes Best Actress Award (and I also really love Diane Kruger’s work after seeing her in the very underrated series The Bridge)
It has a great rating on IMDB – not always a good indicator of overall quality, but worth a mentionWorking on a couple of new takes on the revenge plot myself, so I thought it would be good to check out something that seemed to follow the same general plot.
So, when this came to Hulu, I thought I’d give it a watch. And I’m glad I did – it is a really interesting film with lots for us to learn and talk about as I will discuss in the coming review.
This film is told in three distinct parts (Before the bombing, the trial, and after the trial) which initially made me nervous, but it flowed nicely and felt natural.
The introduction is really powerful and telling: a Man (Nuri) is taken from his prison cell to the cheers and applause of his fellow inmates. We don’t know why he is there, but he does look like a rough customer and the cheering crowd of convicts only confirm our suspicions that he is likely there for a serious offence.
We do finally see why he is being released: it is to get married. A quick wedding to his young, heavily-tattooed girlfriend (Katja – who we later learn was a college dropout that used to buy drugs from him). They are married and have matching rings tattooed on their fingers.
Then we cut to some time later where Katja and Nuri (who is now out of prison) have a child (and a foul-mouthed one at that!). She drops their kid off at Nuri’s office – he may or may not have gone legitimate – and then leaves for a spa day with her pregnant friend.
As Katja is leaving, she notices a teenage girl has left her new bike unchained next to the shop and warns her that someone will steal it. The girl ignores her and Katja moves off without another thought.
When she returns, she finds that her husband’s shop has been blown up and the blast killed both her husband and son (and, importantly, just her husband and son). The investigators tell her that it was a seemingly targeted blast (from a bomb on the back of a bike) to kill her husband. Katja immediately says it was Nazis which leads us to where the film gets really interesting and where many of the questions arise.
Once she is interrogated, we discover that Nuri had been a drug dealer, though she claims he is not doing that anymore. We also find out that she is a drug-user and that her testimony/memory may not be entirely reliable and more secrets are revealed about their lives.
The reason I mention that this is where it gets interesting is that we never get any answers to these questions: the writer/director leaves that for us to decide and to draw our own conclusions as to what really happened and why.
As time goes by, Katja gets more and more depressed and finally attempts suicide. As she slices her wrists, she receives a call from the police saying that they have caught a couple of suspects in the case. Katja survives the suicide attempt and things start to move quickly as the suspects are brought to trial in the double-murder of her son and husband.
Once all is said and done, we are left without definitive answers, with a presentation of something dark and tragic, but left to figure it out for ourselves and draw our own conclusions which is what I like most about this film – it got me thinking and kept me thinking for hours and days after I had finished the film.
Was Nuri still dealing drugs?
(the only people we hear from on this subject are Katja, who insists he isn’t dealing drugs anymore and their lawyer who has his own stash of drugs in his office. Another constant theme running through this film is that everyone lies and you cannot really trust what anyone says)
Did Katja know?
(this is likely as she was married to him and, at one point, perhaps even helping him deal)
Was Katja high when she dropped her son off and saw the alleged bomber?
(we don’t know for sure, but Katja was distracted and nearly got herself run over by a car on the way to her husband’s office. She was also not fully paying attention when she leaves the office as she forgets her glasses and we see that are right in front of her)
Why did she insist it was Nazis? What does she know about the Neo-Nazi Party that she never mentioned to anyone?
(her first reaction to the bombing is that it was Nazis, but she never explains why. She never looks at any other suspects and never once questions it when the police round up a couple who are in the Neo-Nazi party)
Did she really even find the killers or is there much more to the story?
(there may be much more to the story – there was another fingerprint found on the bomb-making materials, anyone could have accessed the shed, if Katja was high when she saw the girl, then perhaps her perception was off, etc.)
We see Nuri’s business partners leave the shop right before the explosion, were they involved?
(they look kind of like gangsters from The Sopranos and are given a curious amount of dialogue in the first chapter, but then disappear from the story entirely and never surface again – not even for the trial where they may have been helpful)
Discussion on Theme
After I finished this film, I sat there for a moment trying to decide what the film was ultimately saying. I couldn’t decide if the overall theme was that revenge will destroy you or if it was an extremely nihilistic view of the world with the message that there is no justice in life except the justice you create for yourself.
However, after reading some critical work on the film and story, something became very clear: this is a really unique film in that there are no answers and major plot details (as mentioned above) are left entirely up to the viewer.
This is interesting and something we, as writers can learn from: you don’t always need definitive answers or long-winded exposition if you trust your audience to draw their own conclusions.
Because the original title Aus dem Nichts means Out of Nothing (from Google Translate, so any German speakers feel free to correct me). Yes, this could refer to the idea that tragedy comes out of nowhere and strikes suddenly, but I think it means something more. I think it is referring to the idea that we must draw our own conclusions, our own truth out of the minimal information that is given to us about the case. Just as Katja had to find her truth about the bombings, whether or not this actually proved to be what happened, we must pull our own ideas and feelings from the darkness.
I would say SEE IT, but go in with no expectations, let yourself be taken on the journey as this is a film that has a very specific path that it wants to take you on. What ultimately I believe happened may not be what you think happened and that is okay, in fact, that is great – that we can all see the same film, the same images and draw entirely different conclusions about what the picture meant. The performances are fantastic and the film will leave you thinking and questioning everything that you have seen.
But what did you think? Please discuss and let me know your thoughts below!
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