(Turkish and German dialogue)
A neat idea doesn’t quite go the distance in “Berlin in Berlin,” a claustrophobic cross-racial drama about a German man trapped in an apartment owned by hostile Turks. Pic could find a quiet berth in specialized webs’ film slots.
Thomas (Armin Block) is an amateur photog who hangs around Berlin’s Turkish quarter and secretly snaps a beautiful woman (Hulya Avsar) with whom he’s obsessed. When her husband is accidentally killed, and his brother (Cem Ozer) gives chase, Thomas takes refuge in an apartment — only to find it’s the very one in which the extended Turkish family lives.
Though the opening stretches credibility, pic starts to develop its own character, with a smart twist: Turkish tradition demands that anyone taking refuge in someone’s home can’t be harmed by the occupants. So the young German holes up in the apartment, where he’s fed and watered by his very enemies. As soon as he steps outside, he’s dead meat.
The varying tensions are cleverly layered, from the brother’s rabid hatred, through the parents’ neutral respect for tradition, to the sympathy of the young woman for the love-struck German.
But largely thanks to a script that relies more on lingering glances (the woman) or snarling hatred (the brother) than solid dramatic development, the intriguing premise starts to show stretch marks about an hour in.
With little backgrounding, the German emerges as a weak center of the drama. The final showdown, in the street, is more worthy of Turkish mellers.
Performances and tech credits are adequate, and director Sinan Cetin keeps his camera setups within the confined apartment consistently interesting.