“The Kick” packs a wallop. Filmed version of a two-person stage play about a senseless rural murder that was first mounted in Berlin’s Maxim Gorky Theater continues the quality run of envelope-pressing docudramas for helmer Andres Veiel, following “The Survivors,” “Black Box BRD” and “Addicted to Acting.” Pic could get a foot in the arthouse door on the strength of its stripped-down Errol Morris-ish DNA, but will stride confidently into fests, tube skeds and vid shelves.
On July 12, 2002, outside the village of Potzlow, some 35 miles north of Berlin, four friends let an apparently routine binge-drinking session get out of hand. Before the night was over, 16-year-old stutterer and hip-hop devotee Marinus Schoeberl was beaten and killed on a pig farm by brothers Marco and Marcel Schoenfeld, aided by their friend Sebastian Fink. The body was discovered in a shallow grave some four months later, and each of the three boys was tried, convicted and jailed.
“The Kick” shows not a single picture of the crime scene, victim, accused, courthouse or families. Rather, on one deserted level of a large warehouse, using a bench and a movable, elevated box lit from within and entered by one of two doors, the numerous players in this tragedy are acted via transcripts by black-clad thesps Susanne-Marie Wrage and Markus Lerch.
What looks thin on paper becomes absorbing onscreen by dubious virtue of the sad economic and vicious racial elements of the crime. The parents seem stunned at the tragedy but insist they raised the children properly, while the harrowing accounts of prosecutors and the boys themselves reveal the aggressors were skinheads who apparently killed Marinus because he stuttered and was Jewish.
Wrage and Lerch are superb, inflecting the transcripts with just enough emotion and physical inflection to nail the illusion; Wrage, in particular, undergoes a startling transformation whenever she slips, sometimes mid-monologue, from authority figure to surly defendant via a hunch of shoulder and eyebrow.
Tech package is discretely affecting, led by Julia Kaschlinski’s intriguingly minimalist stage construction and the canny lighting schemes of d.p. Joerg Jeshel.