German film Black Island is being touted as an erotic thriller, but it manages to plays up an ambient island setting with a fair bit of aplomb even as it grapples with a weak motive for crimes of filial passion
Location, location, location. That’s what real estate is all about. This time, it’s about reel estate. Rarely has location played such a pivotal role in a film. And this is exactly where the movies scores, despite a somewhat shoddy storyline (the revenge formula is really a bit tiresome at times).
In a ploy harking back to British serials like Shetland, this is a clever manipulation to look inwards – in more senses than one. In Shetland, however, the island was never far from the mainland, and many a time characters were seen bridging the watery gap during cross-referencing through an investigation.
is a standalone. Everything happens here; there’s no reference to a different city or country or continent. This is also not a procedural drama; it’s more a psychological unravelling of a series of twisted events in the lives and minds of the characters, where law enforcement only plays an incidental cameo.
The movie is set on an unnamed Frisian island, off the coast of Germany (so why ‘Black Island’? You have to wait for the end of the movie to figure that out!). A series of mysterious deaths dog the Hansen family, as the movie opens with only two men standing: grandfather Friedrich (Hanns Zischler), a retired teacher of the local school, and high-school student Jonas (Philip Froissant). The two don’t exactly get along: Jonas gets the impression his granddad always finds him ‘inadequate’. But brokering an uneasy truce is the only way out for him since he doesn’t want to go live with an aunt on the mainland after the death of his parents in a bizarre car accident.
Jonas has a set of close friends – including Nina (Mercedes Müller), who quite fancies him, and he’s clearly fond of her. As he struggles to get over his personal circumstances – with a lot of help from Nina – a mysterious new German teacher Helena Jung (Alice Dwyer) joins the island high school, and sends out a distinct indication to Jonas that she’s flirting with him. Jonas get attracted to his teacher — inappropriate behaviour, his friends point out… and there appears to be a sinister motive as to why Helena is playing with his testosterone-charged confused youthfulness as he is helplessly drawn towards a relationship that proves to be disastrous. Things really hot up when Nina stumbles upon an insidious connect between Helena and the Hansen family, and figures there’s a devious — and unhinged — plan being orchestrated.
The craggy beaches, the rustic yet gorgeous island settings, the stark remoteness of the landscape, the wind whistling on dark nights — all add to an ambience that makes worth a watch. You can almost feel the chill in the air as icy cold sea waters rush onto the shores, threatening to expose dark secrets that have been kept hidden. It’s a different matter, though, that when the secrets do spill out, you think they are a tad lame.
The movie is in German, with pretty good sub-titling and a killer soundtrack. Hanns Zischler turns in a good performance as an emotionally-unavailable, while Philip Froissant is commendable for his quiet intensity.
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