Friday, 4 March 2011

Unknown, Jaume Collet-Serra, Germany/ France/ UK 2011

As a Berlin resident, I awaited the opening of Collet-Serra's film with high anticipation. Tickets for its world premiere during the Berlin Film Festival two weeks were sold out within minutes. Finally, yesterday Unknown opened nation-wide across Germany, one week after its US release, whose more than respectable box-office figures exceeded all expectations while it sent my own soaring. But to come straight to the point, these were in no way met. In fact, Unknown disappointed on almost every level. Notably the screenplay and the dialogues were completely lacking in logic and imagination as every opportunity to add some much needed suspense was wasted. For the basic plot-line of Unknown is not without promise. Quite the opposite. A skilled screenwriter may have turned this story of a scientist whose identity gets stolen into a tightly woven psycho-thriller a la Hitchcock, full of suspense and nerve-racking story-twists. As it is, the nerve-racking parts were entirely left to the special effects department which, along with the cinematographer, injected the film with some much needed drama. Though these skilfully staged car races through Berlin are of limited consequence for the film's narrative and come across disjointed as their sole function seems to be to fill the voids in between.

The biggest disappointment to me, though, is how little the screenwriter and the director made of the location, the city of Berlin, whose many mysterious, eerie and iconic places, areas and buildings are pregnant with possibilities and would have lent themselves perfectly for this kind of film. Instead, they opted for locations which did little to further the plot and which bear nor surprises for the viewer. Worse yet, in the - it seems mandatory club scene (the film is, after all, set in Berlin!) - instead of using, for instance, the fabulous BergHain club as a set, the scene takes place in an interchangeable location which, for all we know, could be anywhere in the world.

Which brings me to the next point. Berlin is full of DJ's from all over the world who work in the city's many clubs. And if there's one thing today's Berlin is most famous for - besides its art scene - it's the music. So why didn't it occur to Collet-Serra to use a more inspired, less overused, tune than Blue Monday? The result being that the club scene, too, offered plenty of opportunities to lift his film above the ordinary, but Collet-Serra wasted it yet again.

On the bottom-line, the only reason that kept me from leaving the cinema were Sebastian Koch, Bruno Ganz and especially Diane Kruger, who gets better with every film. Playing an illegal immigrant, Diane Kruger excels at assuming a Bosnian accent and she has a presence which a few years ago I would have never thought was in her.