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MONTREAL — A potent parable of guilt and rehabilitation that remains narratively compact while finding moral complexity everywhere it looks, Shifting the Blame manages to bolster our belief in the capacity for change without resorting to feel-good storylines. The feature debut of director Lars-Gunnar Lotz, it offers powerful performances by a couple of actors who are unknown Stateside and would be a welcome presence in arthouses.
Edin Hasanovic plays Benjamin, a thug who’s just been imprisoned for breaking the jaw of a 55 year-old shop clerk. Approached on his first day in jail by a social worker, he refuses to talk (Anna Maria Prassler‘s script lays the hostility on thick here) until hearing what’s being offered: transfer to Waldhaus, a tight-knit facility where young offenders are treated not as prisoners but members of a strictly disciplined, mutually supportive family.
The screenplay fails to explain why Ben doesn’t flee on his first night or two in this no-fences foster home, but we quickly accept the power it exerts over its aggression-prone members: Peer pressure is inverted here, with competence and reliability replacing violence as a path toward respect. Ben’s roommate Tobi (Pit Bukowski), who has attained the highest rank in the home’s merit-rating system, is a role model for following rules without looking weak, though his commitment will be tested as Ben becomes a rival for the affections of Mariana (Natalia Rudziewicz), a psych student doing her internship at the home.
From the start, Ben copes with the secret knowledge that he was one of the masked hoods who, shortly before being caught for other crimes, carjacked Waldhaus’s foster mother Eva (Julia Brendler). Midway through the film, though, a revelation compounds Ben’s burden of guilt, and Eva — who has struggled to apply the home’s principles of forgiveness toward her own unknown attackers — begins to suspect he was involved.
Eva’s struggle is not just the thorniest moral issue in the film. It also affords a deeply affecting performance by Brendler: a tangle of anger, grief, and guilt that Lotz gives exactly the right amount of weight here — showing its impact on Eva’s loving husband Niklas (Marc Ben Puch) and the group’s dynamics without letting it overshadow Ben’s own dilemma.
Production Company: FFL Film, Fernseh-Labor LB GmbH
Cast: Edin Hasanovic, Julia Brendler, Marc Ben Puch, Pit Bukowski, Natalia Rudziewicz
Director: Lars-Gunnar Lotz
Screenwriter: Anna Maria Prassler
Producers: Matthias Drescher, Philipp Knauss
Director of photography: Jan Prahl
Production designer: Ina Küfner
Music: Sea + Air
Costume designers: Ulé Barcelos, Tanja Gierich
Editor: Julia Boehm
Sales: FFL film
No rating, 96 minutes.
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