Opening 18 Apr 2019
Writing credits: Robert Gold, Jens-Frederik Otto, Christian Zübert, Ferdinand von Schirach
Principal actors: Franco Nero, Alexandra Maria Lara, Elyas M'Barek, Stefano Cassetti, Heiner Lauterbach
Berlin 2001 The recently qualified lawyer Caspar Leinen (Elyas M’Barek) is assigned his first court case, from the legal aid list, where young lawyers hone their craft. However, he does not realize he must defend the indisputable murderer of his generous childhood benefactor, extremely wealthy Hans Meyer (Manfred Zapatka). Despite an otherwise squeaky clean criminal history, his client, the accused Fabrizio Collini (Franco Nero), an Italian guest worker in Germany for 30 years, refuses to speak - to anyone. Not only must Caspar face the connected, powerhouse prosecutor, (Heiner Lauterbach) representing Meyer’s estate including Meyer’s granddaughter (Alexandra Maria Lara) who is also his close childhood friend, he must overcome his personal entanglements, questioning the memories upon which he has built his personal identity, to find out why Collini committed this brutal murder, to affect the judge’s sentence.
The sumptuous Berlin criminal court building with super high ceilings, marble staircases, decorative foyers and hallways strike awe, as an assuming gateway to, with space for the discovery of truth. It was surprising to see some tacky vending machines stuck unlovingly in all that elegance, which was the only difference from Hamburg’s courthouse (which has a cafeteria). Similar also was the contrasting austere courtroom, removing any distractions from focusing on legal presentations. However disturbing were the Berlin women judges who wore shirts and neckties just like the males visible under the v- of their black robes. I was assured by court reporters it was just for the film, possibly to add to the austerity, as 20 years ago women tried to appear more feminine than as today.
Many flashbacks during the trial, slowly reveal the backstories and a sad earlier trial. Caspar’s break comes as one of the lay judges (similar to a jury member) falls ill, and the case is delayed giving him time to travel to Ludwigsburg to the federal archives which were moved there the year before. This thriller, drama based on the hugely successful 2011 first novel by lawyer Ferdinand von Schirach, was loosely inspired by a then recent discovery in his own personal life. Although mostly exciting and personal, the ending suffers, but leaves disturbing questions about German law. (Nancy Tilitz)