For actor Daniel (Daniel Bruhl), it’s a big day. A flight to London to test for what could be the biggest role of his film career. Not that he isn’t well known: on the streets of Berlin, he’s frequently the subject of double takes, is stopped by strangers who want a selfie or a good old fashioned autograph – such is the price of fame. He takes it in his stride. But as he walks through the door of a shabby, old fashioned bar a few streets away from his immaculate apartment, it all changes.
Next Door is based on Bruhl’s own idea and is his first venture behind the camera, a tart, dark comedy which has contemporary issues such as gentrification and inequality in its sights, as well as the comparative trivia of the film business. Inside that bar is the actor’s neighbour, a man he didn’t know existed and who appears to know an inappropriate amount about him. Things that could destroy his personal and public life. Even at a time when we’ve had to become more used to our own company, or that of the people we live with, living in close proximity to others has become an accepted aspect of modern life, as have those thin walls and windows that look directly into our homes. In the public eye or not, true privacy is hard to find.
With its dingy décor, dartboard and bog standard filter coffee, the bar when the bulk of the action takes place, stands like a defiant bastion against the increasing re-development of a part of what used to be East Berlin as it sheds its graffiti and peeling stucco in favour of clean, anonymous lines, penthouse suites and fashionable eating places. It seems to be the only place of refuge for the locals who knew the area as it used to be. They, like the bar, have fallen on hard times, including Bruno (Peter Kurth), one of reunification’s losers and unwillingly on the receiving end of the changes steamrollering through the area he calls home. The majority of the film traces the encounter between him and Bruhl, starting with the older man giving his unwanted opinions on the actor’s films and descending into something even more personal, nay private: the behaviour of the nanny looking after his children, his wife’s affair and, worst of all, his own online “relationship” with another woman.
But it’s all rooted in resentment at what Daniel represents to Bruno and the other regulars. He’s the face of the newcomers, who know nothing of the area’s history and live in conspicuous, streamlined luxury, cheek by jowl with their neighbours as a constant reminder of their wealth. The anger simmers away – Bruno admits he couldn’t stand the sound of the laughter constantly coming from Daniel’s apartment – all under the watchful and cynical eye of the bar’s landlady (Rike Eckermann). Both men are regulars – well, Daniel says he is, except that he doesn’t know her name.
Set within the four walls of the bar, the head to head between the two doesn’t take us in any unexpected directions: the thrill comes from the delicious uncertainty that goes with what we’re watching. Dark prank or truth? Either way, the dialogue is sharp, the humour bleak and the spats between the two men – both of whom, ironically, present a benevolent public face to the world – sharply barbed. Bruhl and Kurth make great sparring partners, individually delivering finely tuned performances, and as a director Bruhl keeps his film on a tight leash, allowing us to enjoy its small details but never outstaying its welcome.
Comedy, Drama | Cert: tbc | Berlin Film Festival | Dir. Daniel Bruhl | Daniel Bruhl, Peter Kurth, Rike Eckermann, Aenne Schwarz.