'Kalinka' ('Au nom de ma fille'): Film Review

Kalinka still 1 - H 2016
Courtesy of StudioCanal
A true crime tale that plays better as fact than fiction.

Daniel Auteuil portrays a father who spent 30 years pursuing his daughter's killer.

Just because a movie is based on an extraordinary true story, it doesn't always mean that the movie turns out to be extraordinary. That’s certainly the case with Kalinka (Au nom de ma fille), a well-crafted if routine procedural that follows the decades-long struggle of a father to apprehend and imprison the man he believed killed his 14-year-old daughter.

Starring Daniel Auteuil (Hidden) as Andre Bamberski, a French accountant who spent nearly 30 years pursuing German doctor Dieter Krombach for raping and murdering Kalinka Bamberski back in 1982, the film gets so caught up in relating every major detail of the famous case that it never creates intriguing characters or any sort of underlying dramaturgy. Efficiently if expeditiously directed by Vincent Garenq — whose 2011 feature Guilty is a better version of this kind of ripped-from-the-headlines tale — this StudioCanal release should see modest local business amid a crowded mid-March market, with some possibilities for exposure outside Europe.

The "Affaire Dieter Krombach," as it's been called, rocked French and German headlines several times between 1982 — when the teenager Kalinka (Emma Besson) was found dead at the home of her stepdad, the doctor Krombach (Sebastien Koch) — up through 2011, when the latter would ultimately be convicted in France for a crime he steadfastly denied committing.

Covering pretty much the entire period between those two dates, and even jumping back into the 1970s for some crucial background info, the script by Garenq and Julien Rappeneau (adapting from Bamberski’s autobiographical account) shuffles from one scene to the next without much narrative momentum, getting the facts straight but failing to do anything interesting with them — to the point that Kalinka feels more like a docudrama than a film that stands on its own merits.

The action kicks off with Andre, his wife Dany (Marie-Josee Croze) and their two children living the good expat life in Casablanca when they run into Krombach, a seductive widower with two kids of his own. They quickly make fast friends, especially after Krombach helps Kalinka recover from a car accident in the Moroccan hills. In fact, they become so close that Krombach also manages to seduce Dany into having an affair, which continues on when the Bamberskis relocate back to France, prompting Andre to demand a divorce as his wife and the doctor run off together.

Several years later, the now teenaged Kalinka and her brother are visiting their mom at Krombach’s picturesque home in Lake Constance when the girl turns up dead one morning, apparently due to natural causes. Distressed beyond belief, Bamberski learns from the autopsy report that his daughter received several unnecessary injections at the hands of Krombach both before and after her death, while there is also evidence of sexual activity and possible abuse the night she passed away.

For the next three decades, Bamberski will use everything in his power to bring the killer to justice, hiring attorneys in both France and Germany, picketing in the streets and going to the press to blame local authorities for a bureaucratic quagmire that would keep Krombach out of court for many years. At one point, Bamberski even resorts to committing a crime himself, orchestrating a kidnapping to bypass extradition laws that prevent the doctor from going to trial.

There are some fascinating facts to glean from the story — especially when we learn that Krombach had been abusing young women throughout a portion of his medical career — but Kalinka never elevates itself beyond a mere recapping of an epic case, jumping ahead every one or two years (with plenty of title cards to mark the time) in order to relate another major obstacle or twist in Bamberski’s marathon race toward a guilty verdict.

Auteuil is strong in a part that finds him either exasperated or exhausted in pretty much every scene, though Bamberski is unfortunately a character whose personality is more or less limited to his sole quest for legal redemption. Koch (The Lives of Others) brings more nuance as a disturbed man you can’t help feeling sorry for at times, even if it becomes increasingly clear that he deserves to go to prison for his heinous acts.

Tech work is pro in all departments, with convincing period detail from Francois Abelanet (Red Lights) and realistic lensing from Renaud Chassaing (Pattaya) that fitfully accompanies the border and time-hopping scenario. Music by Nicolas Errera (Sleepless Night) overdoes it in certain sequences, playing into the film’s crime reenactment aesthetic.

Production companies: LGM Cinema, Black Mask Productions, StudioCanal, TF1 Films Productions
Cast: Daniel Auteuil, Sebastien Koch, Marie-Josee Croze, Christelle Cornil, Emma Besson
Director: Vincent Garenq
Screenwriters: Julien Rappeneau, Vincent Garenq, freely inspired by the book
Pour que justice te soit rendue by Andre Bamberski
Producers: Hugo Berguson-Vuillaume, Cyril Colbeau-Justin, Jean-Baptiste Dupont
Director of photography: Renaud Chassaing
Production designer: Francois Abelanet
Costume designer: Marie-Laure Lasson
Editor: Valerie Deseine
Composer: Nicolas Errera
Casting director: David Bertrand
Sales: StudioCanal

In French, German

Not rated, 87 minutes