Monday, June 09, 2014

KINO! ’14: A Pact

Is a former East German informer really the Devil? He is rather Mephistophelean. Yet, in their school days, Paul Meier sort of got the better of Georg Schmidt. Meier’s karmic bill comes due years later, with substantial compounded interest, in Denis Dercourt’s A Pact (trailer here), which screens during the 2014 KINO! Festival of German Films in New York.

The earnest young Meier was so smitten with Anna, he forged a supposed love note from her to him, in hopes of spurring the arrogant Schmidt to dump her. Surprisingly, it works. However, before stealing some other schmuck’s girl, Schmidt extracts a promise from Meier that will loom large. At some unknown point in the future, Meier must return his presumptive new girlfriend, should Schmidt duly request her.

One Unification later, Meier is reasonably happily married to Anna and the proud father of two classically German looking teenagers. Much to his surprise, the new boss of Meier’s investment banking firm turns out to be the very same Georg Schmidt. Initially, things are rather awkward between the two ex-friends. Of course, Schmidt is not exactly a touchy feely sort of fellow. He is, after all, the son of an East German cop, who knew how to drop a dime to further his interests. The doctored blackmail pictures Schmidt received of Meier in an apparently compromising position with his assistant do not help matters. Even worse, the international market turns against copper commodities, after Meier took a bullish position. At least he can still count on the firm’s security chief Daniel as a friend and ally.

Neither Meier nor the audience seriously considers his pal’s suggestion that Schmidt just might be Satan or some sort of djinn, but Meier’s paranoia will entertain just about any other possibility. Frankly, he is such a hapless victim, many viewers will probably start rooting against him. Still, it is hard to root for Schmidt, but Dercourt obliges with a third act, forehead-slapping game-changer.

A Pact is a tonal traffic jam that leaves dozens of question hanging unresolved, but it is never dull. It starts out as an East German Jules & Jim, detours through Jeffrey Archer territory and evolves into a payback thriller. Viewers who are easily annoyed by cinematic head-fakes will probably find more than they can take here. Still, it goes about its murky business with German professionalism. At times, Dercourt (the French expat) takes things over the top, but that is not such a bad thing.

As Schmidt, Sylvester Groth is memorably severe and calculating, setting the atmosphere of intrigue quite nicely. Poor Mark Waschke’s Meier is required to be a bit of a doormat, but Sophie Rois brings all kinds of barely submerged crazy as Schmidt’s fateful girlfriend, Yvonne. Likewise, Marie Bäumer is rather credibly ticked off with the disappointing men in her life, while Johannes Zeiler steals scenes in bulk as the resourceful womanizer, Daniel.

As in a great Hawthorne novel, the GDR past continues to exert a malevolent influence on lives in the present. Frankly, this is not a film a former East German apparatchik with a guilty conscience could enjoy. It clearly implies there are many who still remember the Communist era and are not willing to forgive. Recommended for those who enjoy psychological thrillers with the occasional melodramatic indulgence, A Pact screens this Friday (6/13), Sunday (6/15), and next Tuesday (6/17) as part of this year’s KINO! at the Quad Cinema.