Film Review: Distance

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Berlin International Film Festival --  Perspektive Deutsches Kino
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BERLIN -- The serial-killer movie is a genre that shows no sign of losing steam any time soon, and "Distance" (Distanz) is a fairly accomplished, small-scale addition to what's becoming a very long list.

Respectfully nodding to such forebears as "Targets" and "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer," writer-director Thomas Sieben -- a Cologne-born politics grad who studied film and photography in Boston -- crafts a promising debut that should appeal to festivals keen to showcase talented younger German filmmakers. The latter, however, is not exactly an endangered species right now, and "Distance" is, like its murderous protagonist, a bit too unassuming and low-key to stand far out of the crowd.

The film works best as a showcase for its star, Ken Duken, who's also one of the producers -- not a surprise, as this is the kind of intensely focused character-study script which actors dream of falling into their agents' letterboxes. He's suitably inexpressive and emotionally reined-in as Daniel Bauer, a 29-year-old public-park gardener who seems to have no friends, no family, no life outside of work.

Subject to consistent low-level bullying from his immediate superior Christian (Josef Heynert), Daniel goes about his business with automaton-like efficiency, but we sense the tightening of internal coiled springs. Much as in "American Psycho," Daniel's frustrations find casual, homicidal release -- his opportunistic urban spree starting with a rock dropped from a highway bridge onto a passing car, then continuing via a stolen hunting-rifle. Complications arise when co-worker Jana (Franziska Weisz) starts making a move on good-looking, intriguingly self-contained Daniel, who finds himself in unfamiliar territory.

"Distance" is more a matter of character-development and mood than plot, though a certain degree of suspense does develop in the latter stages when cops start sniffing around Daniel in connection with the spate of murders on their patch. The script treads a tricky line between dark psychological drama and pitch-black humor, and Sieben's control over his material is such that it isn't really a problem that he breaks little new ground. Crucially, Duken remains engaging and watchable, even when he's doing nothing at all. And Sieben's gambit of avoiding pat explanations of Daniel's behaviour pays dividends, while Charlie Lezin's brisk editing ensures that neither individual scenes nor the movie as a whole outstay their welcome.

Production: Grandhotel Pictures GmbH, Berlin
Cast: Ken Duken, Franziska Wiesz, Josef Heynert, Jan Uplegger, Karsten Mielke
Director-screenwriter: Thomas Sieben
Producers: Norbert Kneissl, Ken Duken, Michael Frenschkowski
Co-producer: Patric Stegenwalner
Director of photography: Rene Dame
Production designers: Daniel Volcamer, Christian Soren Rudolph
Music: Eckart Gadow
Costume designer: Stefanie Millat
Editor: Charlie Lezin
Sales: Grandhotel, Berlin
No rating, 84 minutes
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