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Monday, February 24, 2014

DVD Review: The Passenger

The Passenger is strange, dark and often quietly haunting portrayal of Nick, a bisexual man with certain urges toward murder, who enters the lives of two friends, Phillip and Lilli.

It opens with Nick (Niklas Peters) stroking another man’s face and asking, “Have you fallen in love with me?” The man, still sleepy, indicates no. Nick says, “You are lying.” The next shot has Nick washing blood from his hands. Then on a train, in voice over, Nick tells us that his urge to kill is somehow the fault of the stars and the planet Pluto. (Wait, hasn’t Pluto lost its planet status?) The voice over is on the silly side, but that might be in part due to a less-than-stellar translation for the subtitles (at one point “actress” is written as “actoress”). But not to worry, as there isn’t much voice over in this film. In the opening credit sequence, we see hints of other victims, including a woman whom we see for only a moment from behind.

Nick responds to an ad from Phillip (Urs Stamplfi), who is looking for a roommate. Phillip asks Nick a few questions, and Nick’s answers should alarm him. He says he’s studying, then when Phillip points out that classes have already begun, he adds that he’s searching for an apartment for his father. Plus, at this moment, Nick has a weird look about him, something certainly less than friendly. But Phillip quickly gives him the room, then tells a friend on the phone that he has “a good feeling” about his new roommate.

Meanwhile Nick is out in the city, being followed by a man. We at first don’t know who this man is, or why he’s following him. Does he recognize Nick from the past? Did he know one of Nick’s victims? The scene has a nice intensity, and is done without any dialogue, and with some short cuts that work to disorient us long enough that we lose track of where Nick is, just as this man does. And suddenly they are face to face, and it’s clear this stranger simply finds Nick attractive and poses no threat. Something is decided, without words. Although you get the feeling that what has been decided is a bit different for each man. Soon that man is going down on Nick.

Phillip introduces Nick to his friend Lilli (Lynn Femme). When Nick learns that Lilli is studying to become an actor, he asks if that means he shouldn’t believe what she’s saying. Lilli tells him that good actors don’t pretend, but rather “show how people really are behind all their facades and masks.” It’s a really nice, serious, quiet moment between them, and it’s in that moment that you can tell Nick is becoming interested in her. In that opening voice over, Nick had told us that he wants to learn to control his lust, and we get the feeling that maybe he thinks Lilli might be able to help.

Phillip is a photographer who only photographs men. He claims to be straight, citing a distant girlfriend that we never meet. Nick seems to be interested in him. That other man that had followed him calls Nick, and Nick glances at the caller ID and chooses not to answer. It’s interesting that Nick gave him his number at all. But by not answering, it implies that Nick’s interest has moved to Phillip.

It’s sort of unsettling, the way Nick goes through his day. For a while we don’t know what he wants. He asks Phillip for the address of the studio where Lilli studies acting, saying he wants to surprise her. And soon they’re naked together. Interestingly, we go from a shot of Nick shirtless with Lilli to a shot of him shirtless with Phillip, posing for a photo. Nick asks again why he only photographs men, and Phillip tells him, “I know them better…When it comes to women, I only see what I want to see.” It’s a really nice exchange.

There are some really well composed shots in this film. One that stands out for me is of Phillip, Nick and Lilli resting on a patch of grass between two roads in the early morning. The composition is perfect, with the roads forming an angle in the distance, while the three bodies form angles as well, with Nick in the center and Phillip and Lilli on either side, resting their heads on Nick’s belly. There is no dialogue here – just a brief shot.

I love the quiet feel of this film. However, there are important elements that are introduced but not truly examined, promises which are left unfulfilled. Like, he said he wanted to get his lust under control, but we don’t really see him attempting to do that. It seems he tries to hold off on harming Phillip and Lilli by killing a couple of other people. But then he tells us, in voice over, “The stronger my feelings are getting for them, the closer comes their hour of death.” But we’ve seen him kill two people he wasn’t at all close to, so it doesn’t quite make sense.

There is also some silly horseplay in the gym locker room with some aerosol spray cans that feels forced, unnatural. It’s one of the few moments that I didn’t believe or care for in the film. But apart from that, this is a film that does work to get under your skin. And it’s unusual in the way it portrays its three main characters, which I completely appreciate.

The DVD includes the film’s trailer.

The Passenger was directed by Tor Iben, who also directed Cibrail. This film is presented in German with English subtitles, and was released on DVD on February 11, 2014 through TLA Releasing.

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