Shanghai International Film Festival: ‘The Good Neighbour’

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The Good Neighbour

Directed by Stephan Rick

Germany 2011

Falling somewhere between cold psychodrama and deliberate thriller, Stephan Rick’s The Good Neighbour is a slick, cyclical drama filled with moral anxieties and suburban violence.

David (Maxim Mehmet) moves next door to Robert (Charly Hübner).  David is good-looking, young and ambitious.  Robert is the opposite, yet the two form a friendship based on, if nothing else, proximity.  On the drive home from a bar, David strikes a young woman with his car and kills her.  Robert convinces him to leave the scene of the crime, but soon David falls for the victim’s sister Vanessa (Petra Schmidt-Schaller).  Robert begins to feel left out…and doesn’t take it very well.

Director Rick maintains a fairly minimal style throughout, though his is far from the sparse, grief-stricken narratives of many of his German contemporaries.  Preferring to stay mostly in medium shots, Rick relies heavily on his two leads, both of whom are capable enough. While Hübner’s performance is effectively creepy and eerily boyish, the casting may have been more interesting had the two leads simply swapped roles.  As is, the only major pitfall that The Good Neighbour falls into is stereotyping its males (along with one hilariously underused, nearly entirely mute female police officer).

Nevertheless, writer Silja Clemens and Rick, who also receives a screenplay credit, keep the plot twisting and moving along, and do well to keep certain darkly comedic elements at play, as well as rendering the audience omniscient as opposed to the limited knowledge of David and Vanessa.

There’s a particular scene that really shines and demonstrates Rick’s skill as a director.  In the third act when the tension has been fully ratcheted David and Vanessa plan a kayaking trip together where Robert shows up “accidentally”.  Appropriately, Rick makes the reaction shots of David and Robert the center-point of the scene and, when the trip takes a near-deadly turn, Robert’s character very quickly evolves from detached socially anxious personality, to fully-fledged psychopath. It’s a heart-stopping moment for an audience, and a point where we, concurrent with David, realize how far gone Robert truly is.

Channeling Dominik Moll’s With A Friend Like Harry… (2000), the pacing of The Good Neighbour never accelerates into that of an all-out thriller, preferring instead to hover just on the edges, playing out as cat-and-mouse with an unwitting mouse.

Neal Dhand

Shanghai International Film Festival

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