×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Central Airport THF’

Berlin-based Brazilian director Karim Aïnouz beautifully combines his superb eye for architectural forms with humanistic glimpses into refugees in Berlin.

Director:
Karim Aïnouz
With:
Ibrahim Al Hussein, Qutaiba Nafea. (Arabic, German, English dialogue)

1 hour 37 minutes

Karim Aïnouz achieves the perfect balance between people and locale in “Central Airport THF,” a rare observational documentary that recognizes the beauty of spatial forms without forgetting the individuals who inhabit those voids. Struck by the irony that Berlin’s former Tempelhof Airport, a place of transit amplified by Nazi dreams of grandeur, is now used as a refugee center, the Berlin-based director combines his superb compositional eye with an empathetic glimpse of the lives of a few people living and working in the center. Using a month-by-month structure, and 18-year-old Syrian Ibrahim Al Hussein as his muse, Aïnouz ensures that the men and women who appear on-screen have a humanity to counter the numbing statistics invariably accompanying discussions of refugees. Arty enough for the festival crowd while also topical enough for sales agents, “Central Airport” should collect plenty of stamps in its passport.

The opening boasts a sensitivity to structural forms that could only come from someone with a deep appreciation for architecture and geometrical harmony (Aïnouz was one of the directors involved in the “Cathedrals of Culture” project). Beautifully establishing the expansiveness of the airport, he uses a drone shot accompanied on the soundtrack by Wagner’s Rienzi Overture, thrillingly synchronizing the camera’s rise with the ascending phrases of the insistent strings. Throughout the film, he cuts to Berliners using the park along the airport’s periphery, from kids on Segways to joggers skirting the fence, ensuring viewers don’t forget that “normal” life exists just outside the omnipresent barrier.

But the film’s heart is inside, embodied in Ibrahim’s voiceover as he recalls his life before the war in Syria, when he’d wake up to the songs of Lebanese singer Fairuz and the smell of his mother’s freshly brewed coffee. It’s June, and he’s already been at Tempelhof for five months, waiting for his status to change from the uncertain “protected” category to the more secure “refugee.” Alone, connected to his family in Syria by cell phone but struggling with the deadening isolation inside an airport hangar, Ibrahim dreams of the fruit trees he grew up around, a world far away from the tarmac-surrounded industrial space in cold and grey Berlin.

Aïnouz wisely focuses on just a few people in the center, so apart from overhead shots of the rows upon rows of white cubicle-like living spaces set up in the different hangars that give a vague notion of just how many people reside there (upwards of 3,000), the director avoids the kind of anonymous mass that neuters individuality. The most frequently seen refugee apart from Ibrahim is Qutaiba Nafea, an Iraqi physiotherapist who volunteers at the clinic as a translator and hopes to earn money to pay for German lessons for his wife. Also seen are a few of the people working in the center, men and women trying to accord some dignity to thousands of people in limbo, as well as a security guard patrolling the perimeter and acting as a reminder that the center is a holding pen as well as a temporary haven.

When March rolls around, Ibrahim receives his refugee status and leaves, creating a bit of an emotional hole at the film’s heart in the final 10 minutes or so, although Aïnouz still uses the young man’s voiceover as a way of ensuring a satisfying sense of cohesion. That doesn’t mean he’s making the situation itself satisfying, or pretty; the final words are Ibrahim’s, speaking of the saddest day of his life, when he left Syria. Home remains home, and while the documentary makes certain the audience sees individuals and not statistics, the trauma doesn’t fade away. Rather, it seems as enduring as Tempelhof airport itself.

Film Review: 'Central Airport THF'

Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama Dokumente), Feb. 16, 2018. Running time: 97 MIN. (Original title: “Zentralflughafen THF”)

Production: (Documentary – Germany-France-Brazil) A Lupa Film, RBB/ARTE, Les Films d’Ici, Mar Filmes, Canal Brasil, Cinema Inflamável production. (International sales: Luxbox, Paris.) Producer: Felix von Boehm. Co-producers: Charlotte Uzu, Diane Maia, Joana Mariani.

Crew: Director Karim Aïnouz. Camera (color, widescreen): Juan Sarmiento G. Editor: Felix von Boehm. Music: Benedikt Schiefer.

With: Ibrahim Al Hussein, Qutaiba Nafea. (Arabic, German, English dialogue)

More Film

  • Luca Guadagnino Teams With Valentino on

    Luca Guadagnino Teams With Valentino Designer on Short Film Starring Julianne Moore (EXCLUSIVE)

    Luca Guadagnino has teamed up with Italian designer Pierpaolo Piccioli, creative director of the Valentino fashion house, to make a short movie fusing the aesthetics of film and haute couture and featuring an A-list cast comprising Julianne Moore, Kyle MacLachlan, Marthe Keller, KiKi Layne, Mia Goth and Alba Rohrwacher. The 35-minute film, portraying different chapters [...]

  • Edgar Wright

    Edgar Wright Preps London-Set Psychological Horror Movie, Talks ‘Baby Driver 2’

    Edgar Wright’s next project will be a psychological horror film set in London’s Soho district and with a female lead. The “Baby Driver” writer and helmer has also talked about the sequel to that movie, and said a first draft of “Baby Driver 2” is ready. Wright was talking to British film magazine Empire. The [...]

  • Trailer for Berlin Panorama Opener 'Flatland'

    Trailer for Berlin Panorama Opener 'Flatland' Revealed (EXCLUSIVE)

    Variety has been given exclusive access to the trailer for Jenna Bass’s “Flatland,” which is the opening film of Berlin Film Festival’s Panorama section. Sales are being handled by The Match Factory. The South African film is a contemporary Western centering on a journey of self-discovery for three different but equally trapped women. “It paints [...]

  • 'Captain Marvel' Lands Day-and-Date China Release

    'Captain Marvel' Lands Day-and-Date China Release

    Marvel Studios’ hotly anticipated blockbuster “Captain Marvel” will hit Chinese theaters on the same day as it debuts in North America. The Brie Larson-starring picture will release on March 8, 2019, which is also International Women’s Day. Written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the film tells the story of Carol Danvers, a former fighter [...]

  • Peter Rabbit trailer

    Australia Box Office Recovers, Grows 3.6% in 2018

    Gross theatrical box office in Australia grew by 3.6% in 2018, to $890 million (A$1.25 billion). The score was propelled by a rebound in the performance of the top local films. Data from the Motion Picture Distributors Assn. of Australia published Tuesday showed aggregate cinema revenues recovering after a dip in 2017. While the 2018 [...]

  • Why Megan Mullally Won't Talk Politics

    Q&A: Why Megan Mullally Won't Talk Politics While Hosting the SAG Awards

    Megan Mullally is funny. The “Will & Grace” star can also sing and dance. While she’s not picking up the Oscar hosting gig after the Kevin Hart fiasco, Mullally will take center stage on Sunday, Jan. 27 when she makes her debut as the host of the 25th annual SAG Awards. Variety caught up with [...]

  • Glass trailer

    'Glass': Five Box Office Takeaways From M. Night Shyamalan's Thriller

    With his fifth No. 1 box office opening, M. Night Shyamalan has plenty to celebrate. “Glass,” the conclusion to a trilogy that consists of the 2000 cult hit “Unbreakable” and 2016’s box office sensation “Split,” topped the box office last weekend — though its win comes with a few caveats. More Reviews Concert Review: Lady [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content