The Collini Case judges German unending horror of its Nazi era

Lee Heidhues 2.26.2023

We watched this film as an offering from the Gerlind Institute in Oakland which offers its members insights into German politics, history and culture.

The Collini Case is riveting, emotionally draining and insightful as to how Germany continues to struggle with the horrific crimes of its Nazi past.

Fabrizio Collini (Franco Nero), accused of killing German tycoon Hans Meyer (Manfred Zapatka)

Hageshund2020 – 8.24.2020

Marco Kreuzpaintner‘s legal drama The Collini Case captured the Audience Reward of the 2020 Norwegian International Film Festival in Haugesund.

The story of The Collini Case is based on Ferdinand von Schirach‘s 2011 novel of the same name and set in 2001 Berlin. The film sees a young lawyer called Caspar Leinen (played by Elyas M’Barek) given the task of defending a murderer, an old and mysterious Italian man called Fabrizio Collini (Franco Nero), accused of killing German tycoon Hans Meyer (Manfred Zapatka), who was a father figure for him in the 1980s.

The case seems pretty straightforward from the start; however, the murderer’s motives are still unknown and Caspar begins to dig into his client’s and Meyer’s past to find out more. Meyer’s gradaughter, Johanna, (Alexandra Maria Lara) — who happens to be a former flame of Caspar’s — disapproves of him working on the case, and his former university lecturer Prof. Mattinger (Heiner Lauterbach) will play an adversary role during the trial.

Unlike most films of the genre, the story here does not focus entirely on the search for the murderer.

The viewer’s attention turns instead to the search for motives, trying to rebuild the two men’s personal tragedies.

Caspar’s tireless investigation will lead him to uncover a major scandal in the German justice system and a brutal war crime that took place in Tuscany at the end of the Second World War.

The film is characterized by a solid, involving script and great acting. M’Barek’s determination is plain to see on screen, and while his inner conflicts are not too evident in most of the scenes showing his investigation, his meetings with witnesses or him making his case in court, these are well conveyed through a few sequences interspersed throughout the narration that show him training in a boxing ring. Meanwhile, Nero’s interpretation sparkles especially through his silences, red eyes and hesitations, which say much more about his troubled soul than the few lines he pronounces throughout the film.

Future German tycoon Hans Meyer (Manfred Zapatka) as an Waffen SS leader in Italy in 1944

In terms of aesthetics, the film’s cinematography (courtesy of Jakub Bejnarowicz) is astonishing, powerfully depicting the torments suffered by the lawyer and Collini, and contributing to creating the gloomy atmosphere required by the genre. Ben Lukas Boysen‘s score is present only when indispensable, and often has a great emotional impact.

The search for the truth is finally rewarding. In its simplicity, the film’s last scene gifts the viewer a touch of poetry and a moving moment that makes the entire enterprise worthwhile.

Kreuzpaintner’s latest feature is a beautiful piece, its change of perspective — searching for the motives rather than for the murderer – making it much more appealing and innovative than other films of the genre, all the while sticking closely to its codes and conventions.

Top photo: Fabrizio Collini (Franco Nero) in the German courtroom