You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Giraffe

(English and German dialogue)

Lena Katz ..... Maria Schrader David Fish ..... Dani Levy Charles Kaminski ..... David Strathairn Lena's mother ..... Nicole Heesters Win ..... Jeffrey Wright Eliah Goldberg ..... Lukas Ammann Lt. Lynch ..... Paul Butler Det. Pucci ..... Mario Giacalone David's mother ..... Lynn Cohen

(English and German dialogue)

Dani Levy’s “The Giraffe” is a slickly shot, Nazis-under-the-rug political thriller that’s handicapped by rather ordinary dialogue and subject matter that in recent years has become more the province of TV movies. Largely set in New York and filmed in English, pic represents a conscious gamble by Berlin-based production house X-Filme Creative Pool to broaden its slate of purely Euro arthouse fare. Irony is that X-Filme’s German-lingo “Run Lola Run” is likely to create more theatrical waves offshore than the internationally-styled “Giraffe,” whose true market nowadays is mostly on the small screen.

Film is very much a collaborative effort between actor-helmer Dani Levy, one of X-Filme’s cofounders, and his actress partner Maria Schrader, both of whom last worked together on the same company’s much artier “Silent Night,” a notable bomb in Germany two years ago. Schrader, who also coscripted, toplines as Lena, the Gotham-based granddaughter of a Jewish chocolate-factory owner, Eliah Goldberg (Lukas Ammann), whose premises are torched by anti-Semites in a small German town.

In New York, German emigre Mrs. Fish (Lynn Cohen) reads about the fire and calls her son David (Levy) to tell him she recognizes Goldberg — he is her father, long believed dead. David hires a Jewish activist lawyer, Charles Kaminski (David Strathairn), to make contact with Goldberg and try to sort out the truth.

Meanwhile, Lena, visiting her mom (Nicole Heesters) at the hotel where she’s staying while on a visit to New York, finds Mrs. Fish dying in the corridor. At the hospital where Mrs. Fish is taken, Lena and David meet for the first time and slowly — rather too slowly — untangle the complex truth of their linked backgrounds that stretch back 50 years.

Though it starts with an act of anti-Semitic violence in contempo Germany, the movie is more about shared histories and the legacies of the Nazi era than modern neo-fascism. In that respect, it’s a thoroughly commercial thriller, in “Marathon Man” style, but with lingering European influences in the direction and without that movie’s star power and gripping set pieces. The complex plot involving switched identities requires concentration to follow and ends more with a whimper than a bang when the action relocates to Germany in the pic’s latter stages.

Though Schrader is a fine actress with the right material and makes a good showing in English, she seems uncomfortable with the constraints of a genre role and elicits few sparks on-screen with Levy, whose character suffers from poor post-synching. Strathairn is OK in a familiar role as the hardened lawyer.

Film’s main weakness is the dialogue, which doesn’t flow easily and is almost all at the service of the plot rather than characterization. The true stars of the picture are Levy’s regular d.p., Carl Koschnick, whose widescreen, zoom-compressed lensing is standout; composer Niki Reiser, whose omnipresent, Hebraic-flavored score pushes the pic along, and editor Sabine Hoffmann, whose cutting doesn’t leave an inch of spare flesh.

Until late in production, the film was titled “Meschugge” (“Don’t”). Final, much better title, refers to the nickname of a character who was once head of Treblinka concentration camp.

The Giraffe


Production: A Jugendfilm release (in Germany) of an X-Filme Creative Pool presentation of an X-Filme, Extrafilm (Berlin)/Condor Films (Zurich) production, in association with WDR, DRS and Arte. (International sales: Pan-X, Cologne.) Produced by Stefan Arndt. Executive producers, Arndt, Peter-Christian Fueter, Dani Levy. Directed by Dani Levy. Screenplay, Maria Schrader, Levy.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Carl F. Koschnick; editors, Sabine Hoffmann, Levy; music, Niki Reiser; production designers, Teresa Mastropierro, Volker Schaefer; costume designer, Ingrida Bendzuk; sound (Dolby Digital), Raoul Grass, Hubert Bartholomae; stunt coordinator, Manny Siverio; line producers, Milanka Comfort, Tom Spiess (Germany), Margot Bridger (New York); assistant director, Tina Khayat; casting, Lou Digiaimo, Brett Goldstein. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentation), Sept. 14, 1998. Running time: 107 MIN.

With: Lena Katz ..... Maria Schrader David Fish ..... Dani Levy Charles Kaminski ..... David Strathairn Lena's mother ..... Nicole Heesters Win ..... Jeffrey Wright Eliah Goldberg ..... Lukas Ammann Lt. Lynch ..... Paul Butler Det. Pucci ..... Mario Giacalone David's mother ..... Lynn CohenWith: Erin Rakow, Stephanie Roth, R.J. Cutler, Daniel Mastroianni, Mark Zimmerman, Marcia Jean Kurtz, Francine Beers, Sylvia Kauders.

More Film

  • Aisling Franciosi

    European Film Promotion Unveils 2019 Shooting Stars

    Aisling Franciosi (“The Nightingale”), Ardalan Esmaili (“The Charmer”) and Elliott Crosset Hove (“Winter Brothers”) are among the 10 actors and actresses who have been named as the European Film Promotion’s Shooting Stars. Previous Shooting Stars include Alicia Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts, Pilou Asbæk and Baltasar Kormákur. The new crop of up-and-coming talent for the 22nd edition of [...]

  • Jodie Foster'Money Monster' photocall, Palais, 69th

    Film News Roundup: Jodie Foster to Direct, Star in Remake of Icelandic Thriller

    In today’s film news roundup, Jodie Foster is remaking Iceland’s “Woman at War,” the Art Directors Guild honors production designers Anthony Masters and Ben Carre, “47 Meters Down: Uncaged” gets cast and Melissa Takal directs “New Year New You” for Hulu. PROJECT ANNOUNCEMENT Jodie Foster will direct, co-produce and star in an English-language remake of [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Jake Gyllenhaal to Star in Remake of Denmark's Oscar Entry 'The Guilty' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Bold Films, and Jake Gyllenhaal and Riva Marker’s Nine Stories banner have acquired the rights to remake the Danish thriller “The Guilty,” with Gyllenhaal attached to star. The pic won the world cinema audience award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and was also named one of the top five foreign language films of 2018 by [...]

  • Toxic Avenger

    'Toxic Avenger' Movie in the Works at Legendary

    Legendary Entertainment is developing “The Toxic Avenger” as a movie after acquiring the feature film rights. Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz of Troma Entertainment will serve as producers. Alex Garcia and Jay Ashenfelter will oversee for Legendary. Kaufman and Herz produced the original 1984 comedy, set in the fictional town of Tromaville, N.J., and centered [...]

  • Constance Wu

    'Crazy Rich Asians' Star Constance Wu in Negotiations for Romantic Comedy

    “Crazy Rich Asians” star Constance Wu is in talks to join Sony’s Screen Gems’ untitled romantic comedy, with Elizabeth Banks and Max Handelman producing. “GLOW” actress Kimmy Gatewood is making her feature directorial debut on the project. She will be directing from a Savion Einstein script about a woman who becomes pregnant with two babies [...]

  • Maggie Gyllenhaal AoA

    Maggie Gyllenhaal on Why a Woman Director Doesn't Automatically Make a Story More Feminine

    Having a female director doesn’t automatically make a story more feminine, says “The Kindergarten Teacher” star Maggie Gyllenhaal, but when it comes to her film with director Sara Colangelo, she says the female narrative is fully encapsulated. “Just because something is written or directed by a woman doesn’t necessarily make it a feminine articulation,” she says [...]

  • Kevin Hart Hurricane Harvey

    Academy Looks Warily at Oscar Host Options as Board Meeting Looms

    Kevin Hart’s abrupt departure as Oscars host has left the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences scrambling to find someone to take the gig. As of now, the situation remains fluid as the group’s leadership explores options, including going host-less, individuals familiar with the situation told Variety. The Academy was blindsided by Hart’s announced departure Thursday [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content