Beginning as an interesting, if not particularly original, thriller, Andreas Gruber’s “The Debt of Love” rapidly declines into a perplexing, unfocused and leaden tale of obsession in which the directorial intelligence at work has not found its proper dramatic vehicle. Occasional moments of emotional insight and a brave central perf partly redeem a project that signally fails to ignite the emotions. Commercial prospects are dim.
A deadening conceptualism seems to hang over this story of one woman’s attempt to understand her father when it is too late. Upwardly mobile professional Monika Besse (appropriately chilly Sandrine Bonnaire, dubbed) is the daughter of a politician who has died under mysterious circumstances. She returns from Luxembourg to investigate, assisted by detective Schweiger (wooden Rudiger Vogler), and slowly comes to realize she barely knew her father.
When it becomes obvious that Dad plotted his own death, Monika sinks into a crisis of self-identity, which she finally comes through as a better and stronger person. (We know this because she smiles for practically the first time in two hours.)
Little dramatic puzzles are thrown out to convince the audience it is watching a thriller, but tension remains defiantly low, due to flawed pacing and confusion about pic’s intentions. In a film that prides itself on its attention to realistic detail, dramatic implausibility sticks out like a tag on a dead man’s toe.
Pic’s topics are interesting and contemporary: Press intrusion into private lives, political corruption and the numbing effects of modern technology on the soul are among themes it brushes on, but without settling into a clearly defined approach. Lensing emphasizes the cold pastels and hard edges of the city at night, adding to the general sense of soullessness.