The Collini Case (2019)

The Collini Case by Marco Kreuzpaintner is a slickly made German legal drama that hinges on postwar European history.

War Wounds

by Alexa Dalby

The Collini Case

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

The Collini Case is a slick German courtroom drama with a story underpinned by the long reach of German postwar guilt and trauma. Adapted from an international bestelling novel that exposed a scandal and caused a sensation, the film’s direction by Marco Kreuzpaintner is sophisticated and competent: the acting is universally excellent.

As elderly Fabrizio Collini, Franco Nero conveys the depths of his internal pain despite being practically wordless throughout. As the film starts, he shoots dead wealthy, older, industrialist Hans Meyer (Manfred Zapatka) in his hotel suite, confesses, but refuses to proffer any explanation or defence until overtaken by revelations from the past at his trial. Elyas M’Barek is Caspar Leinen, the inexperienced newly qualified lawyer who takes on Collini’s defence as a career-boosting move, only to then discover he has personal connections with the victim that will have serious repercussions for him and his relationship with the Meyer family.

The 2011 novel Der Fall Collini by Ferdinand von Schirach, translated by Anthea Bell and adapted for the film by Christian Zübert, Robert Gold and Jens-Frederik Otto, is loosely based on the author’s grandfather as a founder of the Hitler Youth and the scandal of a law to prevent prosecutions for past war crimes.

The original novel is described as being very short and sparely written, and the film shows the signs of having been padded out to its excessive two-hour running time. The first hour is scene-setting and slow moving despite the stylish lensing. There’s a rather over-egging scene of boxing to unsubtly show-not-tell Caspar’s character traits. The second hour focuses on the courtroom, with flashbacks to the history Caspar has researched to explain Collini’s state of mind and make his action understandable. The courtroom scenes are well done and work better than the first half. But the gradual revealing of the wartime story, told like unpeeling the layers of an onion, though shocking, was implicit from the first, given the age, nationalities and backgrounds of the participants, and the historic events as portrayed seem – it’s sad to say – clichéd.

The Collini Case seems more like a made-for-TV movie than a feature film, or maybe a mini-series. And perhaps it is, more importantly, rooted in a persistent German unreconciled unease about the country’s role in the Second World War that contrasts with Britain’s still-recurrent jingoism. The European Union was originally set up, in broad terms, as a means to overcome postwar European hostilities and promote European unity postwar, but since the UK has now left the EU family of nations, it seems unlikely that understanding, sympathy or sense of unity will mean as much here.

The Collini Case opens in cinemas on 10 September 2021 in the UK and on demand on 11 October 2021.

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