THE COLLINI CASE movie poster | ©2020 MPI Media Group

THE COLLINI CASE movie poster | ©2020 MPI Media Group

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Elyas M’Barek, Alexandra Maria Lara, Heiner Lauterbach, Manfred Zapatka, Franco Nero
Writers: Christian Zubert & Robert Gold & Jens-Frederick Otto, based on the novel by Ferdinand von Schirach
Director: Marco Kreuzpaintner
Distributor: MPI Media Group
Release Date: June 5, 2020

THE COLLINI CASE (DER FALL COLLINI) is set in Germany in 2001, with a few trips to Italy. In contemporary films, bringing together Germany and the year 2001 now seems to be code for a certain type of subject matter. With THE COLLINI CASE in particular, it might have been a good idea to acknowledge this and bring the topic up much sooner, rather than treating it as cause for suspense.

THE COLLINI CASE is based on the acclaimed novel by Ferdinand von Schirach, which is in turn reportedly based on some actual events. When we get to the film’s main point, an innocuous-sounding but shocking legal issue, we sit up and take notice. How we get there is another matter.

Newly-minted defense attorney Caspar Lienen (Elyas M’Barek), eager as a puppy, is happy to take on his first court case. At the outset, it looks bad for the defense, since Caspar’s client, Fabrizio Collini (Franco Nero), doesn’t deny his own guilt in the premeditated shooting of wealthy industrialist Jean-Baptiste Meyer (Manfred Zapatka). Forensic evidence all points to Collini, who hasn’t uttered a word since his arrest.

So far, this is typical legal drama fare. But the murder victim isn’t some stranger to our hero. Meyer was a fatherly presence in Caspar’s life, providing him with an education and putting him through law school. With no idea of how German law works around this kind of conflict of interest, this reviewer can’t even guess how this part of the story plays in THE COLLINI CASE’s country of origin. To an American viewer, it’s an almost insurmountable red flag. It defies logic if not legality that anybody (including the attorney) would be in favor of someone with Caspar’s relationship to the deceased defending the man’s accused killer.

Further unlikelihood develops as Caspar resumes his romance with the victim’s granddaughter Johanna (Alexandra Maria Lara), even though she strenuously and understandably objects to his defending Meyer’s murderer. One of Caspar’s courtroom adversaries turns out to be none other than his old law professor (Heiner Lauterbach). The same stakes could surely have been raised in more plausible ways.

The set-up seems so improbable that the payoff needs to be spectacular. In a way, it is, but this is not thanks to the build-up or otherwise routine, albeit scenic, drama surrounding it.

Director Marco Kreuzpaintner has a good eye for atmosphere, and creates strong emotion in some flashback scenes. He also has many good actors, with M’Barek radiating integrity and charisma, Lauterbach exuding urbane wisdom, and Nero silently expressing so much inner tumult that he draws us into his torment.

THE COLLINI CASE does a public service by shedding a harsh spotlight on unjust laws and how they are easily made. It’s enough to make some of us want to investigate some other banal-sounding bills in other countries. It’s a worthy film, but there are better ways of introducing its arguments.

In German, with English subtitles

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