J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Graf at Anthology: The Invisible Girl


This provincial Bavarian town has a picturesque Medieval festival, but it is a border town, with border town kind of establishments. It is also a divided town. One faction believes young Sina Kolb really was murdered by the mentally challenged convicted of the crime, whereas the larger faction suspects he was railroaded by the cops. A recent transfer from the Berlin police department will start digging up the past when investigating a potentially related murder in Dominik Graf’s The Invisible Girl, which screens during the Graf retrospective at Anthology Film Archives.

Niklas Tanner wanted a fresh start after he was erroneously accused of acting improperly with a witness. Rather inconveniently, he immediately has a one-night stand with a woman who will factor prominently in his first case in the fictional burg of Eisenstein. It turns out Inge-Marie Kolb was Sina’s mother. She also happened to meet Eva Lorant shortly before her death. Lorant claimed to have seen the missing Sina after her presumed murder, according to the cops’ bogus timeline. Obsessed with the case, she came to Kolb again, believing she saw the grown Sina in the red-light district supermarket, where she worked.

Of course, these are exactly the sort of details senior inspector Wilhelm Michel is supposed to sweep under the carpet. He assumes the semi-disgraced Tanner will be a perfect fall guy, if need be. Granted, the Berliner might not be too smart, but he is tenacious. He will also find an ally in Joseph (with a “ph”) Altendorf, the original detective investigating the Kolb disappearance, until Michel replaced him.

For German viewers in the know, Invisible Girl probably slanders Bavarian politicians left-and-right, but for Americans coming in without baggage, it is a pretty tightly constructed little police procedural-political thriller combo. Ronald Zehrfeld (whom we hope you recognize from Christian Petzold’s masterful Barbara) is solid as Tanner, in a believably beefy, non-superhuman kind of way. Elmar Wepper also nicely grounds the film in cynical morality as the prickly, not-letting-it-go Altendorf.

Weirdly, Anja Schiffel is terrific as Michel’s right-hand lieutenant Evelin Fink, even though the sexual nature of some of her scenes with him are a little creepy and off-putting (remember, this is for German television). More appropriately, Ulrich Noethen is spectacularly slimy as the snake-like Michel.

Despite a few excesses, Invisible Girl is a highly credible mystery-thriller, with a keen sense of the Czech-Bavarian border region. It also clearly demonstrates Graf’s professionalism. If it is your stein of beer, you had better see it when it plays during the Graf retrospective. Recommended for fans of ripped-from-the-headlines crime dramas, The Invisible Girl screens Monday (5/27) and next Saturday (6/1) at Anthology Film Archives.

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