‘Are there any Jews onboard?’ came a voice from one of the men dressed in black as they boarded the train. Knives in hands, they moved from carriage to carriage, loudly assessing each passenger for the characteristics or their Jewishness, their Catholic or ‘gypsy’ characteristics. It might seem like a moment from 1930’s Germany, but this is 21st century Scotland. Yes, security cameras are on the train and police are on the platform, but there seems to be no will to stop such overt racism; it sometimes feels like the world has learned nothing from the Holocaust.
The Collini Case is a film that offers a stark reminder about what’s at stake here. The story here is true, a celebrated German court case. In the opening scene, respected industrial magnate Hans Meyer (Manfred Zapatka) is gunned down in his own office by a visitor; Fabrizio Collini (Franco Nero) is arrested and put on trial, and the elderly Italian refuses to speak to his legal team about why he committed such a violent act. Caspar Leinen (Elyas M’Barek) is the young, idealistic lawyer who takes the case, despite an obvious conflict of interests; the dead man was a mentor to him, showed him many kindnesses and helped him better himself in an illustrious new career. Leinen eventually wins some confidence from Collini, and uncovers an uncomfortable truth about how much his own world has been created by a man who served the Nazi cause.
Based on Ferdinand von Schirach’s 2011 novel, in which the author took inspiration from the trial of his own grandfather, a leader of Hitler’s Youth movement, The Collini Case only succumbs to sentiment in a final unnecessary scene; otherwise, it’s a chilling, effective courtroom thriller that should appeal to the John Grisham crowd. And there’s also a big draw in Nero, a matinee idol of the 60’s and 70’s, and still able to dominate a film in which he rarely speaks. And M’Barek does the heavy lifting required to make Leinen an involving protagonist. Adopted into high society, Leinen comes to understand that the world he inherits is tainted by the past.
Thirty or forty years ago, it sometimes felt gratuitous to exhume the stories of ex-Nazis in films like The Odessa File or The Boys from Brazil; shouldn’t we all just move on? But it’s taken the divisiveness of a global pandemic to show that racism has not gone away. Well-acted and constructed, Marco Kreuzpaintner’s serious drama may well get an increased audience due to the absence of several big films in the fall schedule, and that’s for the good. This is a must-see movie for anyone concerned about the worrying direction of today’s society, and a gripping entertainment to boot.
Peccadillo Pictures present THE COLLINI CASE in cinemas (UK & Ireland) from September 10th 2021. Thanks to publicist Olivia Jarvis for early access to this film.