As impressive as the German output was at this year’s Berlinale, there was one major disappointment in the Competition strand in the shape of German-Spanish actor Daniel Brühl’s valiant effort as a first-time director.
His Prenzlauer Berg-set Nebenan (Next Door) does start off well, mind you, and Brühl is to be applauded for taking some (meta) risks: Next Door sees him play a version of himself, also named Daniel, who heads to a local bar before a business flight. He can’t seem to shake a newfound friend, Bruno, who turns out to be his resentful neighbour (Peter Kurth), and the encounter goes from playful verbal sparring to potentially sinister stalker territory.
As promising as this Sleuth-echoing two-hander sounds, the script by Daniel Kehlmann feels a bit too tailored for the stage, and the film can’t quite escape its one-location set-up. The initially playful and self-deprecating send-up of celebrity/civilian dynamics becomes increasingly grating as the runtime progresses, and the chamber piece feels repetitive.
Worse, it never embraces its full potential: the logline describes the film as a “tribute to the contradiction of Berlin in the 21st Century”, and instead of grappling with promising ideas of forgotten generations and class warfare, Brühl and Kehlmann serve up a half-baked tragicomedy that never convincingly addresses the ills of gentrification or the fate of those financially left behind post-reunification. It all culminates in a cameo by the ever-wonderful (and insultingly squandered) Vicky Krieps, who shows up in the final few seconds for a tonally stupid stinger that further highlights to what extent Kehlmann’s script needed another pass.
Nebenan (Next Door) / Directed by Daniel Brühl (Germany, 2021), with Daniel Brühl, Peter Kurth. Starts July 15.