×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Zurich’

Strikingly styled and structured, Dutch helmer Sacha Polak's flawed sophomore feature confirms the promise of her debut.

With:
Wende Snijders, Sascha Alexander Gersak, Barry Atsma, Martijn Lakemeier; Aaron Roggeman. (Dutch, German, English dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3257638/?ref_=nm_flmg_wr_1

An arrestingly broken-backed story structure offers more surprises than the story itself in “Zurich,” Dutch helmer Sacha Polak’s grim but glisteningly crafted sophomore feature. Confirming the promise of her remarkable 2012 debut, “Hemel,” without quite advancing upon it, this bisected study of a young woman cast adrift — physically and psychologically — by personal tragedy unfurls its tale of woe in furtively nonlinear fashion, but it shouldn’t take viewers long to surmise the root of her trauma. Still, Polak’s formal nerve and frankly feminine perspective just about retrieve this Berlinale Forum selection from the realm of artsy miserablism. Distributors may regard “Zurich” with a degree of Swiss neutrality; festival programmers, however, are likely to reach out.

Despite alluring outward trappings and strong reviews that pitched it as a feminist spin on Steve McQueen’s “Shame,” “Hemel” received less international exposure than it deserved. With a less immediate premise and a none-too-evocative title (which does not refer to the geographical location one might assume), “Zurich” could struggle to match its modest success. Yet it does confirm and consolidate Polak’s distinctive directorial identity: Despite a switch in cinematographer (with Frank van den Eeden replacing Daniel Bouquet), the film’s striking aesthetic — with starkly sculpted compositions and hot-cold color contrasts counterbalancing the narrative grime — is pleasingly consistent with that of its predecessor. However, an abstract opening tableau, incorporating a waterlogged car and a live cheetah, strikes a note of teasing surrealism that the film never revisits.

Polak follows this bold introductory gambit with a title card declaring the commencement of “Part Two” — at which point viewers would be forgiven for diagnosing the proceedings with an especially perverse case of pretension. Happily, screenwriter Helena van der Meulen (who also penned “Hemel”) does honor the chronology of what turns out to be rather an elegant structural gimmick. Cause follows effect in its detailing of how, and how far, Dutch drifter Nina (Wende Snijders, whose hardscrabble vulnerability brings Toni Collette to mind) has veered off the rails. If subsequent revelations don’t surprise as much as they’re probably supposed to, they nonetheless complete a thoughtfully shaded character study.

Nina cuts a near-impenetrable figure at the outset: Wandering the motorways and service stations of central Europe, falling into violent sexual altercations with passing truckers, she appears bent on self-destruction, taking little evident pleasure in her ostensible hedonism. It gradually emerges that she’s in mourning for her boyfriend Boris — a truck driver who appears to have committed suicide — and a child, whose fate is initially harder to determine. Ample clues to Nina’s personal history emerge in the affectionate but unstable relationship she forms with kindly, burly Matthias (Sascha Alexander Gersak, excellent), a divorced German trucker with two children of his own. The compensatory mirroring is clear enough to render Polak’s occasional flourishes of foreshadowing (or post-shadowing, to be more accurate) unnecessary: Auds hardly need a shot of Nina brushing a pregnant stranger’s belly to identify the internal void.

“Zurich’s” second half — “Part One,” naturally — is even less oblique, tilting into outright melodrama as Nina’s backstory comes fully into focus. Still, these sudsier passages retain their emotional traction thanks to the anguished intensity and integrity of Snijders’ hard-driving performance, and the script’s refusal to soften the character’s most jagged edges: As in “Hemel,” Polak and van der Meulen project a refreshingly candid, assertive understanding of female sexuality, with little of the moral adjudication applied even by some notionally progressive filmmakers to their characters’ carnal impulses. Late in the second half, as certain peripheral characters come into their own, the film shifts perspective to jarring effect; it works best as a one-woman portrait.

Even at its lowest tonal ebb, “Zurich” looks exquisite, with van der Eeden employing a rich, oily palette of ochres, turquoises and multiple shades of storm cloud. Polak has a true gift for tingling tactile detail: Even the gentlest rustle of sequins on a party dress takes on a kind of sense-memory significance in this cinematic context. The film’s sonic detailing is suitably ornate, though the choral blasts of Rutger Reinders’ score, while narratively integrated, are a little on the oppressive side.

Film Review: 'Zurich'

Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Forum), Feb. 6, 2015. Running time: 87 MIN.

Production: (Netherlands-Germany-Belgium) A Viking Film presentation and production in co-production with Rohfilm, A Private View, NTR, ZDF/Arte. (International sales: Beta Film, Munich.) Produced by Marleen Slot. Co-producers, Karsten Stoter, Benny Drechsel, Dries Phlypo, Jean-Claude Van Reijckeghem, Marina Blok, Simon Ofenloch.

Crew: Directed by Sacha Polak. Screenplay, Helena van der Meulen; Camera (color), Frank van den Eeden; editors, Axel Skovdal Roelofs; music, Rutger Reinders; production designer, Jorien Sont; costume designer, Sara Hakkenberg; sound (Dolby 5.1), Miroslav Babic; supervising sound editor, Marcus Krohn; re-recording mixer, Michael Kaczmarek; visual effects supervisor, Bruno Sommier; visual effects, Filmmore Brussels; stunt coordinator, Rene Lay; line producer, Chris Jorna; assistant director, Sander Donker; casting, Rebecca Van Linen, Tanja Schuh, Sara De Vries-Vinck, Martha Mojet.

With: Wende Snijders, Sascha Alexander Gersak, Barry Atsma, Martijn Lakemeier; Aaron Roggeman. (Dutch, German, English dialogue)

More Film

  • Box Office Film Placeholder

    China Box Office: Taiwan's 'More Than Blue' Wins Second Weekend

    Taiwanese melodrama, “More Than Blue” held strong at the Chinese box office, to secure a second week of success. The film is a Chinese-language remake of a Korean film from 2009, involving Singapore’s MM2 and the filmmaking arm of Fox Networks. With little in the way of strong, new competition, “blue” scored $27 million, according [...]

  • Noah CentineoNickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards, Show,

    Kids’ Choice Awards 2019: JoJo Siwa, Noah Centineo Take on Bullying

    This year’s Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards was full of positivity and encouragement to be yourself. DJ Khaled, known for his upbeat mantras, hosted the 32nd annual awards ceremony alongside JoJo Siwa at USC’s Galen center. Siwa accepted the award for favorite social music star. Siwa said in her acceptance speech, “I get hated on every [...]

  • Us Scriptwriter and Film-maker Larry Cohen

    Larry Cohen, Cult Horror Writer-Director of 'It's Alive,' Dies at 77

    Larry Cohen, best known for his work as a B-movie producer and director in the ’70s and his later work in screenwriting, has died. He was 77. Cohen’s friend, actor and publicist Shade Rupe, confirmed the news, which was announced in a post to Cohen’s official Facebook page. Rupe said Cohen died in Los Angeles [...]

  • Captain Marvel

    Box Office: 'Captain Marvel' Shatters $900 Million Milestone

    Brie Larson’s “Captain Marvel” continues to do heroic business. In its latest box office milestone, the female-fronted superhero tentpole zoomed past $900 million in ticket sales worldwide. “Captain Marvel” brought in a mighty $87 million globally this weekend, including $52 million from international territories. It has now generated $589 million overseas for a global haul [...]

  • Us - Lupita Nyong’o - cr:

    Box Office: Jordan Peele's 'Us' Stuns With $70 Million Opening Weekend

    Talk about scary good. Universal’s “Us,” the second directorial effort from Jordan Peele, pulled off a stunning debut, generating $70 million from 3,741 North American locations. That haul is enough to land it the second-best opening weekend of the year behind Disney’s “Captain Marvel” ($153 million). The psychological thriller about a family confronted by a [...]

  • SHAZAM

    Film Review: 'Shazam!'

    In “Shazam!,” Zachary Levi brings off something so winning it’s irresistible. He plays a square-jawed, rippling-muscled man of might, with a cheesy Day-Glo lighting bolt affixed to his chest, who projects an insanely wholesome and old-fashioned idea of what a superhero can be. But he’s also playing a breathless teenage kid on the inside, and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content