The gap between Europe’s haves and have-nots opens into a chasm in the subtly modulated “Our Little Differences.” Although debuting director Sylvie Michel frequently struggles over where to put the camera and when to cut, she ably collaborates with her co-writers, talented Romania-based filmmaking duo Razvan Radulescu and Melissa de Raaf, and an intelligent cast to deliver an effectively complex drama that hinges on the disappearance of a Bulgarian housemaid’s daughter. Pic is a tough sell for Match Factory, but will build its rep through prestige fest slots.
Fertility doctor Sebastian (Wolfram Koch) projects a cool air that borders on smugness, even though his personal life is something of a mess: He’s unhappily divorced, and his kids transcend the term “brat,” exuding a sort of free-floating disgust with their all-too-tolerant dad. The script sets up what at first seems to be a typical day in Sebastian’s life, as he deals with chippy colleagues and nervous patients at the fertility clinic.
At first, maid Jana (Bettina Stucky) exists in the background, a working-class bit player in Sebastian’s high-end medical world who, if anything, tends to annoy more than assist. But when her daughter Vera (Silvia Petkova) makes plans for a night on the town in Berlin with some teens, including Sebastian’s own, Jana lurches into what Sebastian perceives as over-protective mode, in contrast to his casual indifference.
The immediate outcome predictably confirms Jana’s fears, and is the catalyst for the central drama, turning what amounts to “Our Little Differences” for a considerable stretch into a virtual two-hander for Koch and Stucky. Yet it also forces a confrontation with Sebastian’s own thoughtless inclinations, while raising unresolvable questions on the best approach to parenting, and leaving each character at sea, and looking to make sense of an increasingly serious situation.
Michel looks to be a promising talent, despite an erratic compositional style and uncertain editing. Although she’s French and co-writer de Raaf is Dutch, the movie marks a fascinating fusion of some of the subtly refined sensibilities of the Berlin School (some individual shots instantly recall Ulrich Koehler’s “Windows on Monday”) and the new Romanian cinema’s idea of drama. Thanks to superb acting focused in moment-to-moment reality, the result gradually achieves a considerable intensity.
Koch and Stucky thoroughly master their characters’ striking class and ethnic identities, but never to exaggerated effect. Mario Masini’s lensing is clean and unfussy, and Claus Mayr’s production design shows an acute eye for the way upscale Berliners live.