A young man’s journey home stirs uncomfortable emotions in “Dragonland,” an affectingly understated drama that’s just a little too restrained for offshore theatrical play. It’s solid fare, however, for Eurotube slots and new-director spotlights.
A computer geek who’s designing the titular software game (which, when we glimpse it, is clearly a metaphor for his unruly past), pallid, exhausted Hannes (Marek Harloff) flies from San Francisco to Berlin to visit his father, who’s had a heart attack. Upon arrival he learns that he’s died. Frau Kahnt (Peggy Lukac), the father’s companion, helps dismantle Hannes’ childhood home; she finds the son’s haste and arm’s-length politeness rather callous. Likewise, a girlfriend (Julia Richter) and best mate (Matthias Matz) Hannes had abandoned years before find him awkward and apologetic, incapable of settling unfinished emotional business.
Hannes decides to stay a few extra days, breaking into his father’s shuttered manse in search of clues that might unlock his repressed anger. Using computer technology, he records “evidence” of the mother who died when he was a toddler, and the distant, difficult father who evidently loved him more than either party could express. A chance encounter with a distraught girl (Laura Tonke) at last releases the grief Hannes has been holding back.
Often filmed in tight closeup, lead Harloff expertly draws us into a character hard-pressed to reveal his emotions to others, let alone experience them himself. Subsidiary perfs likewise suggest unresolved tensions without benefit of much dialogue. Some viewers may find pic’s manner too withdrawn, but writer-director Florian Gartner (making his first 35mm feature after two 16mm TV films) effectively uses that approach to mirror Hannes’ well-meaning, then panicked, behavior.
Tech aspects are modest but pro; lack of musical scoring underlines story’s quiet, anxious tenor.