Monday, 10 October 2016

BFI LFF 2016: ALL OF A SUDDEN - Dir. Azli Özge

When the last guest at his house party dies in mysterious circumstances, Karsten (Sebastian Hülk) faces scrutiny from his friends, family and the police. More questions are raised when he learns that no one at the party knew who the woman was or why she was there.

This premise could be the beginnings of a murder mystery but this finely crafted drama from writer/director Azli Özge examines the fallout from this one event and its widespread repercussions for those directly and indirectly involved.

Karsten lives a comfortable life: the son of a wealthy benefactor with a steady job at the bank and a healthy relationship with girlfriend Laura (Julia Jentsch). He’s cultured and intelligent and yet upon discovering the unconscious body of Anna in his flat, he delays calling for an ambulance and decides to run to a nearby clinic for a doctor, only to find it closed. He knows he should have called for an ambulance but can’t explain why he didn’t.

Much of the intrigue in All of a Sudden comes from characters trying to answer that question. Suspicions are formed and actions are taken as more about that fateful night is slowly revealed, leaving Karsten increasingly isolated. There’s a great pleasure in watching the increasingly complex situation unfold, which is largely thanks to the quality of Özge’s quietly manipulative script. It’s very reminiscent of Asghar Farhadi’s best work, where morality is murky and where wrongs have been done but blame is hard to place. It’s a little too ponderous at times but there are enough surprises to keep the story flowing well enough.

Divisions in wealth and class add to the drama, with characters’ perceptions of themselves influencing their actions and reactions of others. Karsten’s father Klaus (Hanns Zischler) is keen to point out that his family have never been in trouble with the police. He seems less interested in clearing his son’s conscience than how the negative press might affect his standing in Altena, a town big enough to have the divisions of class of bigger cities but also small enough to offer no hiding from news of this kind. This dynamic between the lower and upper classes is brilliantly presented in a conversation between Karsten and Anna’s husband that carries the tension of a wild-west standoff; two people dealing with a horrendous situation in different and revealing ways.

Sadly, it’s a remarkable scene that is not successfully capitalised on in the final stretches. Özge smartly pushes the story in an interesting direction but too much is rushed over in too little time, particularly as some supporting characters come back into play. The film’s near unwavering focus on Karsten is intentional but the some of the other characters are less well established for these closing moments to have the same impact they should.

All of a Sudden plays at the 60th BFI London Film Festival on  Monday 10th October 2016 and Tuesday 11th October 2016.  

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