A formula-one racer, a devilish propaganda-sponsoring Nazi, and a scientist on the verge of a cloning breakthrough. For Daniel Brühl, it seems as though no role is too obscure for him to handle. Throughout his extensive career, the European actor has delivered some of the most iconic performances in both independent and awards-caliber films alike. His filmography is the definition of versatile — demonstrating a unique amount of dedication to both his leading and supporting roles. So, when Brühl announced the pre-production of his feature debut Next Door, it surprised virtually nobody. Brühl is after-all, an actor who continuously takes risks with his roles and creative decisions.
If we’re being completely transparent about the entertainment industry, there’s not a single risk that is more terrifying than both leading and directing a feature debut. Many have stumbled and fallen from their heavenly tower of fame from attempting their shot at the directors chair. But for Brühl, the timing couldn’t be any more perfect. With the eventual release of yet another Marvel property to his name, the devilish comedy Next Door is a perfect meta-textual satire on gentrification, privilege, class, and one’s obsessions with these aforementioned cultural norms. Portraying a renowned actor with an offensive reputation for misrepresenting the German commonwealth in prior film productions, Brühl carefully scribes a sadistically boisterous self-aware parody on the current state of Hollywood-product regurgitation and the holy preservation of the self-image.
In one moment, Brühl pokes fun at the twisted commerce and laziness of blockbuster cinema. Making it especially meta with the release of the upcoming series ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’, Brühl mocks the stilted writing and convoluted set-pieces one would expect from this form of modern “theme park” media. In some regards, brief moments of casual self-referencing can be interpreted as a cinematic apology of sorts; a sincere acknowledgement of Brühl’s own hypocrisy with some of his earlier and more questionable works. It’s a bold move, one that pays off greatly with the film’s biting commentary.
Though there’s occasional moments where the film loses its footing whenever it focuses on Bruno’s plight for vengeance. The clear opposition against Brühl’s character in Next Door, Bruno is never given enough spotlight to clearly develop his tragic motivations and background. Merely played as a pitiful gag, his role in the film feels more like a glorified plot device, rather than a fully three-dimensional character. But whenever Brühl and Kurth duke out each other in various glorious fights of mean-spirited smugness, there’s always a consistent amount of value whenever these arguments persist. Largely in part with the connective tissue of social critique against the backdrop of one fateful day of unearthed revelations, the intensity throughout each of these heated conversations is pure cinematic bliss. With two of the greatest European actors duelling each other in a battle of dialogue-based vulgarity, Next Door finds itself in a perfect crossfire of unhinged madness.
Even with its restricted locations, Brühl still manages to justify the film’s cinematic medium. While nearly bordering on theatre-based theatrics, Next Door still manages to feature a wide array of purposeful locations, language alterations, and visual cues — found within the Prenzlauer Berg district — to amplify the film’s thrilling progression of events. For example, the boisterous appearance of a great glass elevator built in the middle of a graffiti-ridden courtyard, is a particularly stark image that represents the film’s commentary on the normalcy of gentrification. The same can be applied with the film’s final scene, where Vicky Krieps briefly cameos. It’s a powerful moment of one curtain opening, and the other closing — resembling a stark visual metaphor regarding the obliviousness of the 1%.
A bar, two neighbours, and a whole set of problems. Daniel Brühl’s conceptually simplistic Next Door is an engrossing debut. Where the film suffers from the occasional lack of voice for the characters in which the film is clearly advocating and supporting, Brühl manages to save his film from becoming yet another pedantic celebrity-penned work of hypocritical misery. Periodically tantalising and consistently paced, Next Door is a promising debut that criticises and even retaliates against the Hollywood system of franchise saturation and its support for gentrification networks; all presented through the power of the moving image. It’s quite the bold debut from Daniel Brühl; a filmmaker and actor is bound to create even bolder and more provoking work in the near future.
Runtime: 92 minutes
Next Door is set to compete for the prestigious Golden Bear award at this year’s 71st Berlinale. The film is currently seeking international distribution.