Looking for Simon: Berlin Review

The character drama filmed like a thriller walks the fine line between intrigue and boredom, succumbing to the latter.

German director Jan Kruger’s Marseille-set drama about a mother looking for her son has more to do with soul searching than with the quest to find an actual person.

BERLIN -- (Forum) Director Jan Kruger’s drama about a mother looking for her son has more to do with soul searching than with the quest to find an actual person. Set in Marseille and following a narrative that contains quite a few red herrings, Looking for Simon moves at a pace too leisurely to be more than an exercise in introspection.

Prospects should be limited to a few more festival outings.

Simon (Trystan Putter) has only been missing for a week, but his mother Valerie (Corinna Harfouch) has already sprung into action. Having travelled from Germany to Marseille, she has enlisted the help of Simon’s former lover Jens (Nico Rogner), who seems more bemused by her quest but willing to go along for the ride.

It becomes apparent pretty soon that Kruger put a lot of effort into underplaying the thriller-element: Simon is actually on leave from his hospital job, the “expensive” sports car he bought is actually quite affordable and even a planned trip to Morocco turns out to be less mysterious as it might seem.

The drama here is all in Valerie’s head – and her stubborn insistence that something might have happened to her son is a less-than-subtle reminder that he might not be missing, but she surely misses him. Being helped in her search by Simon’s former lover has a similar purpose. Obviously not content with the fact that her son is gay, she is trying to cope with and understand his homosexuality.

Cinematically, Kruger takes a different route, though: using sun-filled Marseille by day and its dangerous-looking side streets at night, he treats his eviscerated plot as if it were a full-blown thriller. This provides a nice effect but also puts quite a burden on his actors.

Veteran actress Harfouch carries herself quite well as the forlorn mother without going completely overboard, while Rogner delivers a natural, unpretentious performance as the former lover. Their efforts are worn thin though by the audience’s growing awareness that the outcome of their search is irrelevant.

If Kruger’s aim is to create a not-so-thrilling thriller, he has succeeded. But if his aim was for the character drama that sustains itself through its running time, he has failed. 

Bernadette Paassen’s cinematography and Birger Clausen’s score professionally mimic a more haunting genre, but also work well in lighter moments, while the city of Marseille is used to its full extend.

Venue: Berlin International Film Festival (Forum)
Production company: Schramm Film Koerner & Weber
Cast: Corinna Harfouch, Nico Rogner, Trystan Putter, Valérie Leroy, Mehdi Dehbi, Mireille Perrier
Director/screenwriter: Jan Kruger
Producer: Florian Koerner von Gustorf, Michael Weber, Antonin Dedet
Director of photography: Bernadette Paassen
Production designer: Reinhild Blaschke
Music: Birger Clausen
Costume designer: Anna Scholich
Editor: Natali Barrey
No rating, 89 minutes

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