The Collini Case (Review): Stirring German Courtroom Drama
Evenly paced with rewarding second-half payoffs, The Collini Case shines with excellent performances, strong themes, and compelling storytelling.
To be honest, I don’t watch many courtroom dramas. It’s not that I’m disinterested, I think I just spend so much time in my horror dungeon that I sometimes forget to come out once in a while and enjoy other things. So when offered the chance to review The Collini Case, director Marco Kreuzpaintner’s most recent offering, I thought it might be a good opportunity to expand my horizons.
The Collini Case is a German language film which follows a young lawyer, Caspar Leinen (Elyas M’Barek), who has just recently passed the Bar Exam, and is assigned his first trial case. He is to defend Fabrizio Collini (Franco Nero), an Italian man charged with killing Hans Meyer (Manfred Zapatka); Hans served as Lenien’s father figure since his childhood. But as Lenien learns more about Collini and the case, new truths come to light, truths that may not always be easy to face.
The acting in this movie is uniformly excellent, particularly among the leads. Elyas M’Barek as Leinen, the young lawyer, is in nearly every single scene, meaning that the quality of the film could live or die based on his performance. Luckily, he gives an effective and nuanced portrayal of a conflicted young counsellor struggling to do what’s right for himself and his loved ones, while also doing his duty as a defense attorney. Heiner Lauterbach also gives an excellent performance as Dr Richard Mattinger, the trial’s prosecuting attorney. He weaves a confidence and a smarminess that can only come from experience and success, and a vague moral compass befitting a lawyer. His portrayal of the character will leave you engrossed in his skill as a lawyer, and perhaps wondering if the defendant is not the only one with something to hide.
My favorite performance, however, comes from Franco Nero as Fabrizio Collini. He has very few lines, yet he is able to do so much with just his face. Everything from his long intense stares to his more nuanced and subtle gestures and twitches in his face, he delivers so much characterization, story, and internal turbulence just from the neck upwards. The film is framed as Leinen’s story, but we learn so much about Collini, that his arc and backstory become just as important, and Nero bears that weight from start to finish. On the whole, I was really impressed with the cast and I could give The Collini Case a recommendation based on just its acting.
The writing may not be the most subversive thing ever, but the narrative’s execution and presentation are both good enough so you won’t care. The characterization and dialogue are both strong enough to keep you invested, so even if at certain points you’ll be able to tell where the plot is going, you’ll still be engaged. The film’s first half spends most of its time on exposition and build-up, but it all pays off beautifully in the second half, making the wait worth it. The film also uses flashbacks, which can be a bit of a risk as there have been many movies that haven’t used them well. But The Collini Case’s flashbacks are done right: they’re quick, they’re informative and narratively satisfying, and they don’t break the film’s narrative flow.
The film delves into the theme of family, the ones created both by blood and by choice, and how those loyalties and relationships may be tested under difficult circumstances or when uncomfortable truths come out. It also discusses ethics and morality through the lens of the law, and whether certain laws can be considered “just,” regardless of the time period in which they were implemented. Even if the plot doesn’t have many plot twists you don’t see coming, The Collini Case’s themes are powerful and are presented effectively.
The Collini Case is also a good looking film, with particular emphasis on the lighting: yellow tinges offset more “normal” looking color pallets to create juxtaposed images, while the shadowing makes for some good silhouettes without leaving you in the dark for too long. The cinematography is fine, I suppose: it’s not particularly interesting, but it does its job and it does it well. And the soundtrack is typically sparse using only a couple of instruments, but those quieter moments are contrasted by the few more cinematic orchestral swells over dramatic sequences. All in all, The Collini Case’s craft is fine. Nothing negative to report, but nothing truly exceptional either.
It’s hard to articulate how good The Collini Case is, though I’ve been trying this whole review. It doesn’t have the fireworks you’d see in a blockbuster, nor do I see it attracting the artistic prestige of an arthouse. Yet all of its pieces come together seamlessly to create an excellent and compelling piece of art. I had to be a bit vague in some of my descriptions so I wouldn’t give too much away, but this is a film worth watching; if I end up making a personal best-of-the-year list, don’t be surprised to find this movie on it.
The Collini Case wwas released in cinemas across the UK by Peccadillo Pictures on Friday, September 10, 2021, and is now available to watch on digital and on demand.