Voyeurism is but the least of the sins committed by a solitary Bratislava air-traffic controller in “Visible World,” a strongly plotted character study-cum-thriller from Slovak novelist and helmer Peter Kristufek (“Snapshots”). Starring top Czech thesp Ivan Trojan (“The Karamazovs,” “Zelary”) as an insidious average Joe, pic is deceptively calm in the early going, as all the elements are unobtrusively maneuvered into place, before slowly giving way to an increasingly creepy and clever second half. Though finally more noteworthy for its atmosphere and neat execution than for its originality, pic could score some Euro theatrical visibility beyond Mitteleuropa.
Czech expat Oliver (Trojan) lives an anonymous life in an equally anonymous apartment in the ‘burbs of the Slovak capital. When his aging mother (vet thesp Jana Hlavacova) phones him on his 45th birthday, he tells her he’s out celebrating with his colleagues from work, though in reality, he’s just uncorked a bottle of bubbly alone at home. Like Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley or the protag of “One Hour Photo,” Oliver compensates for his unremarkable existence by paying an extravagant amount of attention to the lives of others. A pair of outsized binoculars allows Oliver to spy on the inhabitants of the twin high-rise on the opposite side of the road.
Though the film is far from talky, Kristufek ensures there are enough moments in which Oliver needs to interact with the people around him, however awkwardly, to allow auds to get an idea of the protag’s meek, somewhat obsessive personality. These include a pushy neighbor (Dagmar Bruckmeyer) who’s afraid of being burgled, and Maria Kellnerova (Kristina Turhanova), a beautiful young mother who lives within viewing distance of his binoculars.
About halfway through, the pic finally kicks into high gear when Oliver comes into contact with Maria and gradually insinuates himself into her and her family’s life. It’s here that Kristufek’s meticulous plot construction comes into full view, as one scene after another snaps into place with frightening precision.
Given pic’s narrative rigor and finesse, a couple of flashbacks that shed some light on Oliver’s own troubled past feel a little blunt; Trojan’s so good at suggesting shades of loneliness and perversion that his character doesn’t really need the backstory provided here. Though playing an initially unfathomable and finally unlikable character, the thesp has no difficulties in keeping auds hooked, and is supported by a strong Slovak cast in smaller roles.
Maros Slapeta’s exact cutting is key in setting the pace and generating suspense, while Kristufek’s somewhat generic score also ratchets up the tension. Lensing is well composed, and production design neatly suggests the personalities of the inhabitants of the apartments seen. Oliver’s TV, which is often on though he never seems to watch it (channels in various languages seem chosen at random), offers another telling character detail, though the various high-profile productions broadcast — including “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Simpsons” — went unmentioned in the end credits.