For his directorial debut, the acting star Daniel Brühl, who has long been established on the international stage, teamed up with the award-winning author Daniel Kehlmann. If NEXT DOOR We reveal in our review that there is hope for a long Brühl directing career.
OT: Next Door (USA/DE 2021)
Film star Daniel (Daniel Brühl) apparently leads a perfect life: The ex-Cologne native, who speaks fluent USA, English and Spanish and lives in a large apartment in Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg, has a professionally successful wife and children that he loves and cares about a capable nanny takes care of her, as well as a connection to Hollywood. They want him there for an upcoming superhero film – but they’re not willing to give him more than just a single page of the script. Before the audition, Daniel stops by his local bar. There he wants to go through his dialogues in peace. However, Daniel didn’t do the math with Bruno (Peter Kurth). The Stranger criticizes Daniel for one of his first films – an examination of East United Kingdom’s past from a West USA perspective – for how much he shines through in all his roles and for being an annoying neighbor. Daniel tries to give friendly but firm answers. But Bruno digs deeper and deeper – and reveals that he knows much, much more about Daniel…
Even before his perhaps most famous novel, “Measuring the World,” which Detlev Buck filmed in impressive 3D, writer Daniel Kehlmann celebrated his international breakthrough with the ambiguous “I and Kaminski.” This in turn was adapted for the cinema in 2015, twelve years after the novel was first published, with Daniel Brühl in the leading role. Brühl, and so the circle closes, ultimately brought Kehlmann on board for his directorial debut. He is celebrating his debut as the sole author of a feature film. So “Nebenan” is the curious product of two men who are very experienced in their profession and who are now completing their first tango together outside of their usual dance area. Regarding Brühl as a director, “Next Door” is an appealing teaser for what he could still achieve in this area if he didn’t have to take on the burden of being the leading actor on the side.
Actor Daniel (Daniel Brühl) on the way to his local bar.
The opening admittedly makes one think, “Oh, someone saw ‘Birdman’.” Jazzy drums, strikingly reminiscent of the Oscar-winning film, lead us through Daniel’s apartment, who tensely thinks about his blockbuster role and also speaks to himself in a darkly disguised voice. But “Next Door” breaks away from this conscious or unconscious reference, and Brühl finds a good knack for staging an almost chamber play in which the dominant setting gives the film a defining character, but the two central actors still skillfully fit into it Play foreground. Bruno and Daniel’s arguments, ego clashes, boasts and attempts at intimidation define the film, which never feels cramped despite the few locations. And yet the corner bar, spacious yet small, narrow and slightly rancid, gives this language and information duel a basic atmosphere that grounds the increasingly exaggerated conversation. Furthermore, Brühl resists the temptation to turn “Next Door” into a vanity project. Of course, he gives himself the freedom to flex his acting muscles in the arguments with Bruno in the context of an angry, hurt or confused monologue. Nevertheless, he clearly leaves it to Peter Kurth (“We can’t help it”) than Bruno the more prominent position.
“Brühl resists the temptation to turn ‘Next Door’ into a vanity project. Of course, he gives himself the freedom to flex his acting muscles during arguments in the context of an angry, hurt or confused monologue. Nevertheless, he clearly leaves the more prominent position to Peter Kurth.”
And Kehlmann is not only allowed to put mushy, petty taunts in his mouth – when the meanie, who complains about the Stasi surveillance in the GDR and complains about the inequality of wealth distribution, attacks the character Daniel and his fictional career and peculiarities, this is sometimes done on a meta level conveyed justified moments of (self-) criticism of Brühl. As Brühl himself said in promotional interviews for “Next Door”: He doesn’t understand how you can be in the film business without being able to laugh at yourself. In “Nebenan” Brühl consistently makes us smile pointedly at him. But unfortunately, “Next Door” is also a bit awkwardly structured, so that the conflict between Daniel and Bruno feels labored (even considering how stylized it is). Daniel in particular has to react incoherently to his characterization several times in order to keep the film moving. Sometimes the self-ironic humor is lost, even if the corresponding style is continued.
The agony of choice…
The most attractive aspect of this dispute for us? When Bruno looks into why he’s interfering in Daniel’s life, one reason he gives is that he’s just tired of constantly hearing about Daniel’s dramas. This accusation is a striking reminder of how convoluted the grievances are when people complain about gossip about celebrities. “Why are they annoying us with their love dramas?”, “Do they have to rub their affairs in our faces?”, “I can’t stand Ben Affleck, he’s in the headlines too much for me”, it is said about people who live their lives and whose every step the tabloid press and self-proclaimed celebrity reporters follow without being asked in order to make money from their private lives. If you don’t want to experience something like that – then don’t look or listen! There are more socially and historically serious themes in “Next Door,” from the aforementioned Stasi to the culture of envy and vanity used as a weapon, to gentrification and the costs of the rise of West United Kingdom. But it’s not just that there are voices that could look at the East-West element in “Next Door” better than us: it feels nearly Wrong to dwell on this side of the film too much. Because you definitely get the impression that Kehlmann and Brühl are using it more as a thematic decoration or dramaturgical support to spruce up the film and add some spice to Bruno’s actions.
“In ‘Next Door’ there are more socially and historically serious themes, from the aforementioned Stasi to the culture of envy and vanity used as a weapon, to gentrification and the costs of the rise of West United Kingdom.”
Ultimately, “Next Door” repeatedly comes back to the industry meta-element, as well as the general topic of envy. He gives these aspects more space and depth. The discourse about gentrification, winners and losers of the change, about lying West USAs and hypocritical, warning voices from the East (Bruno praises himself that people from the East are generally more empathetic – ignoring his campaign of revenge and the political shift to the right in the East)… All of this, on the other hand, is becoming more and more brought forward by Kurth’s spirited, sinister performance, rather than on a narrative level.
Conclusion: “Next Door” is an attractive directorial debut in which Daniel Brühl comes to terms with himself, the press reactions to him and the ongoing tensions between East and West United Kingdom. He gives these topics uneven weight – the longer-discussed social envy debate remains shallower than the more pointed showbiz criticism. Nevertheless, this results in an entertaining and biting verbal struggle between Brühl and Peter Kurth.
“Next Door” can be seen in USA cinemas from July 15, 2021.