aka IM SCHATTEN
(Thomas Arslan, 2010)
It is baffling to me that Thomas Arslan, director of a film as accomplished and riveting as In The Shadows, remains relatively unknown to Anglophone audiences. To the best of my knowledge this film - alongside the rest of Arslan's work - never received a release either in the UK or US, which perhaps explains this anonymity, but in no way excuses it.
In The Shadows is a gritty, stripped-down crime drama, following Trojan (Mišel Matičević) , a professional criminal recently released from prison. He immediately sets about finding a new score through old contacts and settles on an Armoured Car Robbery arranged through an old flame. At the same time another old associate has men hunting for Trojan across Berlin, and a dirty Cop is watching him in order to figure out what his next job could be.
That might make the film sound like a turgid, exciting genre film. But it plays more like a precisely tooled realist drama, lacking any hyperbole or excess. Arslan's storytelling cuts right to the bone of the narrative; characters speak only when they need to (many scenes unfold without any dialogue at all), his camera shuns ostentatious motion, his palette is muted, the music low key. Crime is never sensationalised here; Trojan is a cool, focused professional, and the film takes its tone from his approach. He is violent when he needs to be, but it is calm and precise violence, almost minimalist, and the film again adopts his approach.
Arslan is plainly fascinated by the procedural aspects of the criminal life, and Trojan's meticulous routines and movements are observed in detail throughout, even as his inner life is a mystery. The same could be said of all the characters here - we observe them, and pick up what we can from minute details. Trojan and his old partner Nico (Rainer Bock) share a fondness evident through the silent trust and respect for one another's professional skill, but exchange only a few sentences on their personal lives. Trojan's relationship with his Lawyer fixer sees them end up in bed together, but even there he seems reticent and contained.
All of this - and the attention it encourages us to pay - makes every action register seismically, and suspense builds slowly from the opening scene of the film. Arslan depicts the life of Uwe Bohm's dirty cop in enough detail for his threat to be evident, despite Trojan's remarkably effective criminal lifestyle. His character - played by Matičević with great magnetism and physical presence - is reminiscent of a host of archetypal existential loners in noir over the decades, most notably any of Jean Pierre Melville's hyper-professional criminals, but also Robert Parker's Stark and the driven, solitary thieves at the centre of Michael Mann's crime films.
In The Shadows lacks the depth of Mann's work, but as well as offering a tense and gripping crime story, it is a fine City film - Berlin is a character here, as inscrutable as all of the others - and is an admirably fleet 85 minutes, not a second of which is wasted.