Film Review: The Collini Case  

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writers: Christian Zübert, Robert Gold and Jens-Frederik Otto

Director: Marco Kreuzpaintner

This sleek courtroom drama, based on Ferdinand von Schirach’s popular novel, is a further sign that Germany continues to refuse to avert its eyes from the past. However, The Collini Case’s Hollywood sheen blunts some of its otherwise sharp edges.

Handsome newbie lawyer Caspar Leinen has just been appointed his first case. He’s up to defend an Italian man who is charged with killing a German tycoon. So new to the job Casper arrives overdressed for his client’s first hearing. His day gets worse when his client refuses to speak.

But Fabrizio Collini’s silence is soon the least of Caspar’s worries when he finds out that the victim is none other than Hans Meyer, his childhood mentor. Meyer took an interest in Caspar when the young boy’s family was crumbling. Caspar knows that he should excuse himself from the case on the grounds of a conflict of interest, but the prosecuting lawyer, the eminent Dr Richard Mattinger, persuades him to remain as Collini’s defence.

Despite Collini’s unwillingness to give a reason to why he killed Meyer, Caspar is dogged as only a new lawyer can be. With the help of a pizza delivery woman, Caspar is determined in his pursuit of truth and justice. It’s a journey full of family secrets centred around a Nazi past, but director Marco Kreuzpaintner takes his time ensuring that twists come at soberly regular intervals.

Elyas M’Barek is an engaging Caspar and he smoothly expresses the lawyer’s dual attributes of naiveté and resolve. Although he works long hours, he never looks tired or stressed. If he’s not flying off to Italy, he’s holed up in his ground floor apartment/office, the outside walls of which are covered in graffiti.  Showing such a neighbourhood, Kreuzpaintner may be trying to convey Caspar’s humble origins; instead the area just looks uber-cool.

Also looking cool, but icy is Alexandra Maria Lara who plays Johanna Meyer, the victim’s daughter and Caspar’s occasional love interest. As most of her scenes require her to stare cryptically at Caspar across the courtroom, the scene where she actually does lose her temper is a refreshing counterbalance to her character. But most of the showdowns are between Caspar and Mattinger, a suitably sanctimonious Heiner Lauterbach in a role that Bill Nighy would play in any British remake.

The fact that everything – Italian landscapes to German mansions – and everybody looks stunning does distract from the story and there are two too many collage scenes where newspaper headlines are superimposed over shots of Caspar rifling through faxed reports. These shorthands are very familiar; we can already see that he is working hard, and that time is running out.

But this sense of urgency is not replicated in the film’s two hour running time. Kreuzpaintner’s sedate approach would be justified if there were examinations of nationhood and legacy, but these subjects, vital to any country with colonial histories, are swept quickly aside. Still, The Collini Case demonstrates that Nazism extended past the end of World War Two. If only its exposure were not so shiny.

The Collini Case opens in cinemas on 10 September and On Demand 11 October.

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The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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