Friday, April 10, 2015

Kino! ’15: Who Am I—No System in Safe

Considering the shadowy cyber-activist outfit known as FR13NDS decks out their avatars with masks clearly inspired by the terrorist protagonist of V for Vendetta, it is probably safe to assume the sanctity of life is not a big priority for them. However, a hero-worshipping hacker will be rather disappointed to learn they are in league with the Russian mob. Unfortunately, this revelation comes after he ever so ill-advisedly passes along some highly secretive intel. Cyber monkey-wrenching inevitably turns into cyber-terror in Baran bo Odar’s Who Am I—No System is Safe (trailer here), which screens as part of Kino! 2015, the festival of German Films in New York City.

Life has not worked out so well for Benjamin, at least so far. Yet, it always makes more sense when he is in front of a computer screen. Since he bought into the propaganda disseminated by FR13NDS, Benjamin has become one of the sycophants hanging on the pronouncements of the group’s shadowy leader, Mr. X, in super-secret online forums. He is not the only one. A chance meeting during court mandated community service with the mercurial Max will bring the two kindred spirits together. Together with Max’s old co-conspirators, they form CLAY (“Clowns Laughing At You”) in hopes of impressing Mr. X with their socially conscious prankersterism.

Much to the temperamental Max’s frustration, Mr. X remains dismissive of CLAY. Yearning for online approval, they swing for the fences, launching a major online and physical breach of the Federal intelligence service. Regrettably, when Benjamin gives Mr. X a batch of unvetted classified files as proof-of-hack, it leads to the gangland-style execution of government informants. Wanted for murder, CLAY will have to take down Mr. X to clear their names.

It might be awkwardly titled (“No system is safe” being one of Mr. X’s maxims), but WAI—NSIS is a massively slick thriller that offers a pointed critique of Vendetta and Hacktivist culture in general, while also slyly riffing on Fight Club. Odar’s inventive representations of cyberspace (in a dodgy looking subway car) are quite stylish and cinematic. He also stages some impressive breaking-and-entering scenes and seamlessly executes the third act mind-twister. Based on WAI—NSIS and his previous film, The Silence, it should not be long before Odar is recruited for a major American studio thriller gig.

The cast might have to wait longer for a call from Hollywood, but they are all reasonably solid. Tom Schilling (Generation War and A Coffee in Berlin) is suitably earnest and nebbish as Benjamin. Elyas M’Barek also vents some convincing spleen as the petulant Max, while Wotan Wilke Möhring and Antoine Monot Jr. add seasoning as their unlikely looking accomplices. On the other hand, it is difficult to fathom Hannah Herzsprung’s appeal as Marie, the charmless object of Benjamin’s affections.

Frankly, it is almost a miracle the production company behind WAI—NSIS has not been hacked back to the Stone Age by hacker-activists taking umbrage with the film’s relatively favorable depiction of law enforcement and decidedly critical portrayal of their online skulduggery. Arguably, it is one of the bravest films you will see all year. Highly recommended, Who Am I—No System is Safe screens this coming Monday (4/13) and Wednesday (4/15) at the Cinema Village, as part of this year’s Kino! in New York.