Gegenüber (2007) Poster


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Rough and sympathetic but not esthetically pleasing.
guy-bellinger16 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The main interest of this unconventional film by newcomer Jan Bonny is its seldom examined theme, the marital violence exerted by … women! For it is an established fact that husbands can be the victims of their wives, although women are much more likely to be beaten up by men than the other way round. But the rarity of such cases is precisely what makes them interesting to study.

Assuming this to be true, it is not an easy task for a filmmaker to tackle this problem. Showing a woman hitting a man is an uncommon, unsettling show and it takes a lot of restraint and subtleness not to turn such a story into a freak show. And it can be said that Jan Bonny, never indulging in sensationalism, is the man of the situation. Blows rain down in his film but what makes things acceptable (although seeing 'Gegenüber' cannot be called a pleasure cruise) is the writer-director's empathy for his characters. He does not condemn Anne Hoffmann, a primary school teacher, who, without warning, becomes a man beater. He is content to observe her behavior, trying to understand what -consciously or unconsciously - drives her to such extremities. This outburst of violence seems, according to Bonny, to be the product of sustained frustration (a scornful father, lack of recognition in her job, lack of ambition of her husband) rather than gratuitous or perverse. Likewise, he does not present police inspector Georg Hoffmann as a mere victim. Why does the police inspector remain so passive when assaulted by Anne? He is not a coward, quite the opposite as he has managed to save the life of his young partner Michael during a dangerous operation. Is he masochistic or is it because he wants to protect their love? The latter question could contain the answer as, in spite of everything, Georg and Anne remain a loving couple. Both a good and bad news because, as the ending implies, they risk perpetuating these destructive practices until old age - if they ever reach it.

¨Matthias Brandt and Victoria Trautmansdorff are exceptional as Georg and Anne. They give their all to their characters, hard as their work must have been, and make them believable throughout.

My only reservation concerns the cinematography and the camera-work. Why such dirty pictures captured by such a shaky camera? Why such ugly natural settings (the Hoffmanns' apartment looks particularly hideous)? After all, Georg and Anne are middle-class, and even if they are not well off, such sordid realism does not actually fit in. Wouldn't it have been more relevant artistically to show a reasonably beautiful environment gradually deteriorating as the situation worsens?

A worthwhile effort despite this minor flaw though.
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Very well-written film about a taboo
Horst_In_Translation12 September 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Not too long ago, the German film "Freier Fall" came out and became pretty popular, also abroad. It dealt with a homosexual man/couple in the police force and this one here also has a police officer in the center, but this time the issue is not his sexual orientation, but domestic violence, with the only difference that the man is the victim here. "Gegenüber" was made almost 10 years ago and features excellent performances by Matthias Brandt and Victoria Trauttmansdorff and both very well deserved their German Film Award nominations. Jan Bonny did a very good job writing and directing here. He co-wrote the script with Christina Ebelt and both have not exactly been pretty prolific writers at this point, which makes the quality of the script even more impressive. Every single scene is a winner here.

Thumbs up also for the supporting players, especially Möhring and Striebeck (reminded me of Will Quadflieg). One of the most interesting aspects of this film is certainly the female main character's relationship with and perception of men and masculinity. Her reaction during the dinner with her parents was extremely telling here, when her husband gets the jacket as a reward for his promotion. She absolutely cannot deal with the fact that her husband is going to wear this jacket. It belongs to her father who is a big authority figure for her and she cannot take her husband seriously at all. How much she is still a little girl that longs for the acceptance of her dad becomes obvious in the car when she says her dad was impressed with her and also when she talks about the boy she is going to take care of. This fact also shows how broken her marriage was. She does not speak about this crucial decision with her husband before announcing it and she wants to be promoted as well. She even calls it her promotion because she cannot accept her husband being in a superior position than herself.

Now, some more words about the aspect of domestic violence. It is a very complicated situation because the husband is so passive and accepts the wife's comments about him being guilty and responsible for her beating him up because he is always so passive, even when she sleeps with his co-worker. She hurts him physically and emotionally during the entire movie, but he does not have the strength of will to hit back (not in a physical sense). He just accepts his fate. The children are fairly powerless as well. Another crucial situation is when we find out that the son is going to stop with his studies and the son offers to tell his mother, but the husband says he will do it, only to make things not look as bad. And then he asks his daughter if she can tell the mother, because he knows what is going to happen if he tells his wife. Another interesting depiction of the role of men and women and how Trauttmansdorff's character sees it is when she talks to one of her pupils very early in the film.

Finally, some words on Brandt's professional life, especially his relationship with Möhring's character. For almost the entire film, he mistakes him as his friends, maybe because he does not have any friends and it's truly telling that he does not go and sleep at his daughter's place (after his wife beat him up badly), but instead goes to Möhring's character's home, after he slept with his wife already. He asks if he can look around in his colleague's flat after the colleague not only took a closer look at his flat on the other hand, but had sex with his wife. There is some massive irony in that. The final scene with his colleagues makes it very obvious. Everybody knows that his colleague and his wife had sex. Everybody knows about his wife beating him up and sees him as a weakling now. Basically, his professional career is destroyed, only because he trusted Möhring's character with letting him know about the injuries and all this after he had sex with his wife. The ultimate betrayal and still he shows him the injuries. Brandt's character has absolutely no talent in terms of human relationships and knowing who is on his side and who is not.

A truly brilliant movie. I highly recommend it. Certainly not an easy watch in terms of the serious material in here, but a very rewarding one. Highly recommended.
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