Film Review: Storm

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Berlin International Film Festival --  Competition
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BERLIN -- "Storm" is a different kind of political thriller. Entering the murky waters of a war crimes tribunal, this film from German director Hans-Christian Schmid comes across the usual assortment of heroes, villains and victims but with a catch: The hero may not get the villain; the victim may not get to testify like she wants; and justice may play handmaiden to political expediency. The film is a reality check for a genre in which the good guys somehow always come out on top.

This Berlin competition film, made in several languages but mostly English, has enough brains and balls to penetrate worldwide theatrical markets. But any awards the jury may bestow here, where it was generally well received, can only help its outlook. A strong international cast featuring Anamaria Marinca of the Palme d'Or-winning "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," Kerry Fox and Stephen Dillane adds to its chances.

The film opens with a war criminal in hiding getting arrested. Three years later, in his trial at the International Criminal Court in the Hague, the case against a former Bosnian Serb commander accused of atrocities against Muslim civilians seemingly melts down when a key witness is caught in a lie. The witness then commits suicide.

Picking up the pieces is prosecutor Hannah Maynard (Fox), who has been brought on the case by a superior (Dillane) more adept than she at political gamesmanship. With time running out, a slip of the tongue tips her off that the late witness' sister, Mira Arendt (Marinca), may possess evidence against the defendant.

However, Mira has made a new life for herself in Germany with a husband and kids and wants nothing to do with the past. It's buried, both for her sanity and for the protection of her unsuspecting family.

Hannah, with her passion for justice newly stimulated, pursues Mira with single-minded vigor. Threats from Serbian thugs have the opposite effect intended: Mira decides to testify despite the rift this causes in her family.

Only this new witness and her evidence throw the court off its schedule. Furthermore, her testimony may jeopardize the political need to bring various states from the former Yugoslavia into the EU, a responsibility that belongs to no less than Hannah's warm and supportive lover Jonas (Rolf Lassgard).

Faced with the prospect that the judge probably won't allow any testimony concerning new allegations against the Serb leader, her boss suggests making a deal with the defendant's lawyer (Tarik Filipovic). But how will Hannah face Mira once the deal is done?

There are no easy answers to any of this. Schmid and his co-writer Bernd Lange make clear where their allegiance lies but they let each side have its say. A climax, which not every audience member may buy, concludes the film with a somewhat upbeat ending. But even this is ambiguous. These are murky waters indeed.

Playing all this as a thriller rather than a polemic works. A pulsating score by the Notwist and smoothly edited transitions across several European locales ratchet up the tension as the film races for that climax.

The escalating threats, political countermeasures, increased anxiety in the characters' lives and betrayals this way and that turn the film into an intriguing chess game. Only it's a game that has human emotions and a faltering quest for justice at its heart.

Acting is across the boards splendid. Rage, mistrust, passion and despair -- all are suggested without histrionics. These are all adults dealing with each other in a realistically depicted world. It is, of course, a far cry from your usual thriller. Good guys have a much harder time in this one.

Production: 23/5 Filmproduktion in co-production with Zentropa International Koln, Zentropa Entertainment Berlin, Zentropa Entetainment5, Zentropa International, IDTV Films, SWR, ARTE, WDR, BR
Cast: Kerry Fox, Anamaria Marinca, Stephen Dillane, Rolf Lassgard, Alexander Fehling
Director: Hans-Christian Schmid
Screenwriters: Bernd Lange, Hans-Christian Schmid
Producers: Britta Knoller, Hans-Christian Schmid
Executive producer: Maria Kopf
Director of photography: Bogumil Godfrejow
Production designer: Christian M. Goldbeck
Music: The Notwist
Costume designer: Steffi Bruhn
Editor: Hansjorg Weissbrich
Sales: Trust Nordisk
No rating, 103 minutes