With the star-studded tragicomedy THE INTERPRETER Two big names in Eastern European cinema make their debut as a directing duo, which, however, comes across as so mature that it is always very irritating due to its very serious basic subject matter. We reveal more about this in our review.
The Plot Summary
Bratislava-based interpreter Ali Ungár (Jiří Menzel) travels to Vienna to confront the alleged murderer of his parents, who were killed in the Holocaust. But instead of the former SS officer Kurt Graubner, he only finds his son Georg (Peter Simonischek), who explains to him that his father has already died. Georg is a retired philanderer and bon vivant, the exact opposite of the serious and brooding Ali. Initially dismissive, he begins to see the unexpected visit as an opportunity to finally come to terms with the dark stain in his family history. He quickly hired Ali as a tour guide and translator for a joint research trip through Slovakia. Together they want to track down the few living witnesses and their descendants who can tell them something about this dark chapter in Georg’s father’s past.
Movie explanation of the ending
Anyone who knows a little about Eastern European cinema or at least follows the Oscars long enough will probably recognize the name Martin Šulík (“The garden”) and Jiří Menzel (“Love according to a timetable”) be a term. They are among the most popular directors in their respective countries and have already come into contact with the Academy Award as nominees and award winners. The two have now teamed up for their unconventional road movie “The Interpreter” and were also able to engage a star of USA art house cinema for one of the two main roles: In Maren Ade’s exceptional film “Toni Erdmann”, the Austrian Peter Simonischek slipped into the role of the joker of the same name and terrorized his busy daughter on a business trip. This time he plays the son of a war criminal who goes on a trip across Slovakia alongside a Slovakian pensioner (played by director Jiří Menzel) to come to terms with his past and that of an entire country. On paper, this interesting constellation of characters promises exciting hours of cinema, especially because the press release uses this bitter topic as the basis for a film “entertaining road movie” might. Somehow “The Interpreter” also gives the impression that it doesn’t want to be a tense drama of concern, but it does so clumsily that the inappropriately cheerful moments repeatedly pull the viewer out of the film experience.
Ali (Jiří Menzel) and Georg (Peter Simonischek) get closer on their journey.
After the slow rapprochement of the two completely different travelers, the focus of “The Interpreter” is primarily on the conversations written by the author duo Marek Lescák (“Nuna”) and Martin Sulík, which are put into the mouths of the two main characters. The topics covered range from war to the resulting consequences for her and her family and soon become an inventory of the country and the people living in it. Or to put it a little more generally: Ali and Georg start with the lowest common denominator (their past marked by the world war) and soon start talking about God and the world. However, due to this very broad potpourri of topics of conversation, the focus quickly becomes lost. At some point it becomes completely irrelevant what brought the two men together in the first place and why it is actually a real miracle that the two can talk to each other so relaxed. “The Interpreter”, a drama that was actually intended as a story about breaking taboos and overcoming barriers, becomes an interchangeable tragicomic road movie about how two completely opposite people suddenly come closer to each other. And when this finally extends to unabashed flirting with women, which is completely natural for some people while others stand by in shame, it suddenly becomes clear that the overarching topic of National Socialism is just an accessory, which is briefly mentioned at the very end a finale that is as dramatic as possible is taken up.
So if at some point it doesn’t matter how the men found each other, it should at least be exciting to see how their emotional relationship develops over time. While Jiří Menzel embodies the introverted Ali, who is marked by the past, so sensitively and reservedly that the subtle nuances in his acting keep the interest in his character constantly high, the character of Georg is not just designed to be the complete opposite; Peter Simonischek plays the daredevil and philanderer in a relatively uniform manner, which at no point does justice to the premise of the film. This also applies to the individual stations at which the two men stop during their trip and the people they meet here. The most memorable is an encounter with two young women at a rest stop, which turns out to be as lewd as you would expect from an old-fashioned US comedy. Of course, the melancholy inherent in the story falls by the wayside. Only on a visual level does Eastern Europe, captured in an unspectacular, uniform gray, still remind us of the basic principles of history. The dreary streets, high-rise buildings and gas stations do not form the most attractive backdrop for the two pensioners’ foray into Eastern Europe. But at least it feels authentic. In complete contrast to the final twist, which is delivered with so little enthusiasm that you lose interest in Ali and Georg’s escapades at this point.
Edita (Zuzana Maurery) and Ali reminisce together.
Conclusion: “The Interpreter” would like to be a film about the aftermath of the Second World War without relying on the seriousness of a classic drama. But the comedic inserts seem strange and they take away the emotional punch from the tragic part of the story.
“The Interpreter” can be seen in selected USA cinemas from November 22nd.