noir fans know when a tough motorcycle guy never talks about the past, there is
usually a good reason. In truth, Erik is a little fuzzy on that score himself.
Unfortunately, his past will catch up with him good and hard in Maximilian
Erlenwein’s Stereo (trailer here), which screens
during the 19th Berlin & Beyond Film Festival in San Francisco.
his “scoundrel” tattoo, Erik seems to have made a fresh start, opening a garage
in a small, but welcoming provincial town. He has charmed his single mother
girlfriend Julia and her adoring daughter Linda. Her cop father Wolfgang is
considerably less impressed, but Erik can handle him. The man who will call
himself Henry is another story.
hooded mystery man appears alongside Gaspar, a suspicious looking type who
seems to know Erik and some dangerous gangsters they supposedly did wrong. Gaspar
has some sort of plan to finish them off, but Erik sends him packing. However,
Henry refuses to leave, ever. It turns out he and Gaspar were not together. In
fact, nobody can see him except the increasingly alarmed Erik. Eventually, the mechanic
will seek non-traditional treatment, but he cannot shake off the antagonistic
presence. As the underworld power struggle roughly invades Erik’s new life,
Henry will reveal their secret connection. It will not be pretty.
Stereo is sort of a big
twist movie, but the 800 pound shoe drops early in the third act, driving some
bizarre dramatic dilemmas for Erik. It is fiendishly cleverly constructed by
Erlenwein, who pulls off some brazen narrative sleight of hand right before our
eyes. Yet, he is also patient enough to set the scene and establish his cast of
sinister and straight characters. Erlenwein also gets a huge assist from Ngo
The Chau’s carefully framed, visually hypnotic cinematography.
Erik, Jürgen Vogel’s bald, beading head looks suitably intense through Ngo’s
lens and he masterfully sells his wild ride of character development arc.
Moritz Bleibtrau is more restrained as the ominous Henry, but he seems to
relish the taunting and totally pulls the rug out from under the audience down
the stretch. There are plenty of minor players orbiting them (Fabian Hinrichs
as a young, not as dumb as he looks doctor scores considerable points in limited
screen time), but it is the oppositional chemistry between Vogel and Bleibtrau
that really makes the film tick.
It is hard to understand why a genre specialist
like Magnet has not scooped up Stereo for
distribution yet. It oozes noir style, while Erlenwein skillfully builds the
tension organically, going from slow burn to fiery combustion. Highly
recommended for fans of dark psychological thrillers, Stereo screens this Thursday (1/29) at the Castro Theatre in San
Francisco, as part of this year’s Berlin & Beyond.
Labels: Berlin & Beyond '15, German Cinema, Psychological Thrillers