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ARRAS 2019

Review: Free Country

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- Christian Alvart directs an efficient remake of the Spanish film Marshland, plunging two investigators in the troubled waters of a recently reunified Germany

Review: Free Country
Trystan Pütter in Free Country

“I don’t like this place. Strange things are happening here.” We are somewhere near Löwitz, close to the Szczecin Lagoon which borders Poland, and most important of all, on ancient lands of the GDR — an essential detail at the heart of the story in Christian Alvart’s Free Country, which takes place in the autumn of 1992, a mere two years after the official reunification of Germany. The new film from the director of Antibodies and of the TV series Dogs of Berlin therefore immerses itself at the crossroads of History and of a porous geography that favours traffic and criminal dealings. The crime thriller, which is having its international premiere in competition at the 20th Arras Film Festival, is a successful remake, both faithful to and nevertheless very different from the remarkable Marshland [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Alberto Rodríguez
film profile
]
from Spanish director Alberto Rodriguez (who had written the original story with Rafael Cobos). Though the main ingredients are the same (two antagonistic policemen investigating the disappearances of young women in a place ruled by elusive forces), Christian Alvart and his co-writer Siegfried Kamml have put together a recipe with sufficiently personal flavours for their reinterpretation to be just as thrilling as their Spanish source of inspiration.

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Patricia and Nadine, two 17 and 16 year old sisters with the reputation of easy girls, have vanished two days ago. They were last seen at night, getting into a Golf, on the outskirts of the town animated by the yearly fair attractions. This is the starting point given to Patrick Stein (Trystan Pütter) and Markus Bach (Felix Kramer), sent on location and teamed up for the occasion. For the former, a rather shy and discreet man, this case is a punitive transfer: he was sent to the East of the country in retaliation for arresting the boss’s brother who possessed a few grams of cocaine (“sometimes I get the feeling that all the higher-ups are corrupted”) and he now finds himself far away from his wife who is about to give birth. Meanwhile the latter, a sturdy man and a big drinker with a loud mouth, does not hide his distaste for the consequences of the reunification (“you people in the West, you use dirty money to buy the land of us poor people of the East”). But both of them are cops, and despite their stormy relationship (“your Stasi methods…”), and as interrogations and clues drive them to various leads, they will discover that a serial killer has been active in the region since the fall of the Berlin wall, and perhaps even for a long time before…

Corpses, unsettling erotic pictures, ecstasy dealers, threats, a psychic talking to the dead, bad omens, a suspicious hunting lodge, unauthorised phone tapings, heavy secrets from the past, young women dreaming of other places and easy preys, etc. It is as though a profound and generalised infection creeps into the pores of the investigation, with the tense social climate born from deindustrialisation in the background (the threat of strikes; Polish workers agreeing to work for a third of the usual salary). A fusion of tension and strangeness which Christian Alvart efficiently depicts, helped by his two lead actors and the anxiety-inducing score from Christoph Schauer.

Produced by Syrreal Entertainment, Free Country was co-produced by Telepool, which will also release the film in German cinemas on 9 January 2020. International sales are handled by Global Screen.

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(Translated from French)

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