'Meteor Street' ('Meteorstrasse'): Berlin Review

Meteor Street still 1 - H 2016
Courtesy of Berlin International Film Festival
An intensely performed immigrant drama that lacks a strong storyline.

French documentary filmmaker Aline Fischer opened Berlin’s German movie sidebar.

Named after a narrow, desolate road adjacent to Berlin’s Tegel airport, Meteor Street (Meteorstrasse) shows a side of the city seldom seen on screen: that of Arab immigrants scraping by in a country which does not always welcome them with open arms.

For her first narrative feature, French documentary director Aline Fischer (The Wild West) focuses on a pair of Palestinian brothers – 18-year-old Mohammed (Hussein Eliraqui) and 27-year-old Lakhdar (Oktay Inanc Ozdemir) – trying to make ends meet after their parents have been deported to Lebanon. It’s a powerful subject that could have been developed further, in a film that lacks sufficient narrative drive but gets by with energetic performances from its two leads. After opening the Perspektive Deutsches Kino section at the Berlinale, expect more fest play and a few theater gigs in Europe.

Holed up in a ramshackle home with two dogs to feed and not a dime to spare, Mohammed and Lakhdar have few options in a town where work is hard to come by – and perhaps even harder for people of non-German origin. Given that his older bro is erratic, irresponsible and possibly crazy, Mohammed has no choice but to hold down the fort, finding under-the-table employment at a nearby motorcycle garage.

Yet as much as he tries to get ahead, the young man is forever weighed down by Lakhdar’s behavior, as well as by the racist attitudes of some of the bikers, who are happy to exploit their Arab laborer but will never let him join their crew. Eventually Mohammed strikes back in an act of desperation, and the aftershock pushes him further away from his family and adopted country toward parts unknown.

It’s a slim storyline that often feels like a short movie stretched to feature-length, although the film does take an interesting turn during the closing reel. If Fischer doesn’t quite convince in the plot department, she makes strong use of the bleak outlier settings – with planes forever taking off and landing on our heads – and of her well-chosen cast, whose intense turns carry much of the dramatic weight.

The promising Eliraqui channels Mohammed’s ongoing predicament as someone caught between his war-torn origins – the movie opens with footage of the Palestinian territories under siege – and a new world where Muslim customs are not easily accepted, especially among beer-guzzling Hells Angels types. Ozdemir is equally convincing as the volatile, self-destructive Lakhdar, and the scene where he comes across his brother’s private diary is definitely one of the film’s strongest.

Using lots of handheld camerawork to follow the action, Fischer’s very Dardennes-style direction can grow dizzying at times, and one wishes she’d step back from all the close-ups to give her characters a bit of air and perspective. Production designer Paola Cordero Yannarella adds a strong layer of realism to the industrial zone where Mohammed and Lakhdar are stranded – a place that sits ironically next to an airfield where people are constantly heading off to other, perhaps more welcoming, lands.

Production company: credo:film
Cast: Hussein Eliraqui, Oktay Inanc Ozdemir, Bodo Goldbeck, Sebastian Gunther
Director, screenwriter: Aline Fischer
Producers: Susann Schimk, Jorg Trentmann
Executive producer: Jan Mocka
Director of photography: Maurice Wilkerling
Production designer: Paola Cordero Yannarella
Costume designers: Maya Winter, Paolo Cordero Yannarella
Editors: Jorg Volkmar, Jamin Benazzouz
Composer: Matija Strnisa
Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Perspektive Deutsches Kino)

In German, Arabic, French
84 minutes