DVD Review - The Visitor (Cibrâil)

Ein film von Tor Iben, The Visitor is the English title, but this movie is German. It's set in Deutschland, its capital city of Berlin, and everyone speaks in the German language. Yet, there was an American film a few years ago with the same title, starring Richard Jenkins, which has a lot of parallels. The Visitor (2007) had its American protagonist's life upended when he finds another man living in his apartment in Manhattan. This movie is similar in that Sinan Hancili who plays Cibrâil, an officer in the German polizei, also finds his life upended when his girlfriend's cousin Marco, played by Engin Sert, comes to stay in their apartment. The American film is all about male friendship and cultural enlightenment in the post 9/11 world. This German film whose official title is Cibrâil is all about a gay man realizing his sexuality somewhat late in his life.

The first scene is Cibrâil waking up next to his girlfriend Christine, played by Martina Hesse. He goes for an early morning run, as later we learn he's training for a marathon. He goes to work and investigates a robbery at an ice cream parlor, which might be a gay hate crime. With no connection to Cibrâil, writer-director-editor Tor Iben injects footage, probably shot by him, of the Berlin Pride Festival parade in the first reel rather randomly. It's either meant to imply where the main character is going or simply show the extremes of lifestyles, as Cibrâil is quite muted in almost all outward expressions, but the parade is opposite. It's loud and colorful and flamboyant.

We get no sense of whether or not Cibrâil has ever expressed any kind of same-sex attraction before, but when Marco arrives, Cibrâil starts to behave in a manner of quietly lustful desire for the handsome, hirsute man who lands from Rome who is most likely German but looks like he could be Italian.

Marco doesn't talk about his homosexuality. He hardly has any conversations with his cousin, so we're not sure if she even knows at his arrival. Yet, Marco is not afraid with going to gay bars and picking up guys to kiss and with whom to have sex. Cibrâil witnesses Marco engaging in a homosexual encounter and becomes inspired or awakened. His impulse is to try to have sex with Marco.

That's basically it. Tor Iben doesn't provide enough context to make us understand why Cibrâil is in the closet and why for that matter he has a girlfriend. Iben's film could have been the German version of Andrew Haigh's Weekend, but we don't get enough dialogue or character development.

Cibrâil barely, if ever, talks about his ethnicity, but the press material confirms that he is Turkish. Odds are Cibrâil was probably born in Turkey, but he could have been raised in Germany. If he immigrated, he could have carried over some Muslim sensibilities, which aren't favorable to homosexuality, even though Turkey is mainly a secular state. If not, I don't know from where Cibrâil's closeted status comes.

Germany still doesn't recognize same-sex marriage or joint adoption between same-sex couples, but Germany legalized same-sex activity in the late 60s and allowed gay people to serve openly in the military in 2000, which puts the European nation decades ahead of the United States in terms of gay rights. Germany had its first openly gay Vice Chancellor, which is the equivalent to the U.S.' Vice President, in 2009, and Klaus Wowereit who proclaimed in 2001, "Ich bin schwul, und das ist auch gut so," came out as gay and is now the current mayor of Berlin.

In terms of German cinema, it has always been pretty bold when it comes to exploring gay issues or depicting gay characters. Director Rainer Werner Fassbinder was a pioneer in the 70s. Some landmark and bombshell films after Fassbinder were Wolfgang Petersen's Die Konsequenz (1977), Frank Ripploh's Taxi Zum Klo (1981), Heiner Carow's Coming Out (1989), Rosa von Praunheim's The Einstein of Sex (1999), Sherry Hormann's Guys and Balls (2004) and Tom Tykwer's Three (2010).

It makes sense that Cibrâil would be aware of these cultural things. He would be aware of these openly gay politicians. He would be aware of these gay films, so his own homophobia is confusing. There's no origin of it that is clear. Homophobia in real life makes no sense, but, in a movie things should make sense.

Besides Iben's slow zooms and obvious gaze of the naked, male form, what I love about the movie are the sightseeing and travelogue aspects. I've seen films that take place in Berlin, but none that ever took the time to walk a mile in the shoes of a tourist, which Marco seems to be. Marco walks around Berlin and basically absorbs a lot of it as someone new to the city would.

For example, Marco visits the Schwules Museum, which is a library or archive dedicated to gay people, their history and rights. Tor Iben incorporates constant shots of Alexanderplatz, which is a large, public square in Berlin's center. There are scenes in or near Tiergarten, a large park in the city, but Tor Iben returns to Alexanderplatz where Cibrâil lives. Architectural achievements catch Iben's eye, including the Fernsehturm, which is the tallest structure in Germany at 368 meters, and the Molecule Man, which is an art installation in front of Treptowers on the Spree river.

It made me really take in the scenery. It made me wish Marco's character was more the focus. I would much rather try to get inside Marco's head. Tor Iben gives us enough to make us curious about him. There are some crimes going on around Berlin that the movie could have put Marco up against, but the movie doesn't go to that level. It merely creates an atmosphere and wades in it or dips its toe, instead of going for a big splash.

Three Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but recommended for mature audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 10 mins.


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