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The Collini Case (Der Fall Collini)

Director – Marco Kreutzpaintner – 2019 – Germany – Cert. 15 – 123m

Film ****

Film trailer * (because: spoilers)

An apparently cut and dried murder case, with a young public defender caught in a conflict of interests, turns out to be far more complex – out in cinemas on Friday, September 10th

Berlin. A man enters a top hotel, makes his way to one of the rooms, is let in and kills the occupant. Then he returns to the lobby trailing bloody footprints, collapses in a chair and is questioned by one of the staff. “He’s dead,” he says, “presidential suite.”

Young public defender Casper Leinen (Elyas M’barek) goes to Court and is introduced by the judge (Catrin Striebeck) to seasoned state prosecutor Dr. Reimers (Rainer Boch). The latter two think it’s an open and shut case: the defendant obviously committed murder. Fabrizio Collini (Franco Nero) was born in 1934 and has lived in Stuttgart for 30 years. His victim was Jean-Baptiste Meyer (Manfred Zapatka). They go down to the basement holding cell to meet Collini, who doesn’t say a word when Leinen questions him.

The victim turns out to be also known as Hans Meyer, the leading industrialist. Leinen is horrified to discover this, as Meyer mentored him growing up. The defender now has a conflict of interests: he knows the family well, and they will not expect him to defend the patriach’s killer. His old tutor Professor Mattinger (Heiner Lauterbach) tells him not to quit. Leinen has feelings for the dead man’s granddaughter Johanna (Alexandra Maria Lara), though, so there’s a potentially rocky road ahead.

Johanna is unsurprisingly shocked when she finds out, but that doesn’t prevent the pair from embarking on an intimate relationship. It emerges that her parents and brother were killed in a car crash, while Leinen and his own father have something of a strained relationship. There is more still to come crawling out of the woodwork. The victim appears to have been involved in some shady business dealings, but a much worse revelation about half-way through completely changes the story and in explaining Collini’s motive makes us far more sympathetic to his murderous act. Incidentally, the trailer gives elements of this away – and likely so will some reviews you might read, so try and avoid watching or reading either before you watch this.

Based on a bestselling novel, the script is cleverly put together with lots of nice touches. The killer is very deferential to his lawyer, saying things to Leinen like, “I don’t want to cause you any trouble, counsellor.” The gruff Franco Nero projects just the right degree of impenetrability. Until you realise what’s gone on in the past between him and the murder victim, he is impossible to read. However, it’s really M’barek who carries the film, playing the obsessive lawyer convinced that the case is not all it seems and determined to get to the bottom of it, even though his professional elders and betters consistently tell him he’s fighting a lost cause. Aided by a translator Nina (Pia Stutzenstein) he’s met when she was working in a pizza joint near his home, Leinen’s investigations take him to Collini’s home town of Montecatini, Tuscany, Italy in an attempt to uncover something of the defendant’s family history.

There are rough edges in this German production that you can imagine a Hollywood movie smoothing over to make it more palatable (and losing something in the process). It’s a solidly made, workmanlike affair that functions effectively as both courtroom drama and investigative mystery, with an ace up its sleeve when you realise about an hour in what’s really going on and what the film is actually about. Unless you’ve watched the trailer first, in which case it’ll ruin the film for you. Which is a pity, because while it appears a tough sell to audiences without introducing ruinous plot spoilers, if you don’t know what’s coming, it packs quite a wallop.

Just don’t watch the trailer before seeing it. (Did I mention this before?)

The Collini Case is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, September 10th.

Trailer (major spoiler alert: don’t watch this until you’ve seen the film… you’ll thank me later):

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