Nebenan / Next Door

Daniel (Daniel Brühl) is a successful film star. Each morning he exercises on his rowing machine at home while watching the television tower in Alexanderplatz through his massive windows. He eats a breakfast that consists of different exotic fruits laid out side-by-side and coffee in a cup barely large enough to contain a drop of spit. He speaks Spanish to the maid, English to the agent who continually rings him up, and German to his wife.

Daniel is due to fly to London for an audition for the latest Marvel-type megabucks megabore. As he learns his vacuous lines, the maid tentatively waits at the top of the stairs, obviously scared that disturbing the master could have dreadful consequences for her. And just in case we haven’t made up our mind just how hateable Daniel is, he has one of those phone earpieces permanently in his ear and walks through town with an irritating bag on wheels.

Could Daniel be based on a real person? Are there any other German-Spanish actors called Daniel who started in films about the DDR, and have more recently moved into soulless Hollywood films? Well, here’s a clue. Nebenan does not just star Daniel Brühl – it is directed by Daniel Brühl and based on an idea by Daniel Brühl. Well, I guess you can’t accuse him of not being self-aware.

Daniel, the character, is continually pestered for selfies and autographs, which he gleefully signs, and looks put out when a couple don’t recognise him and are just asking him to take a photo of the two of them. He talks self-righteously about his “Danny Boy” charm, and seems to be loved by everyone. Well, nearly everyone.

Too early for his flight, Daniel ends up in a pub which he frequents regularly, without ever having learned the landlady’s name. A man who has been staring at him eventually introduces himself as Bruno and says that he lives in the same housing block (“you live in my block?” asks Daniel? “No, you live in mine” replies Bruno, who has presumably been there since DDR times). As he is at home a lot, he is often given Daniel’s mail, which is picked up by his personal assistant.

Indeed, Bruno’s father used to live in Daniel’s flat before it was renovated, gentrified and given its own private lift. We can assume that Daniel’s accommodation costs are much higher than Bruno’s dad’s. This makes the film incredibly topical – for Berliners at least, who are currently about to vote in a referendum to put housing owned by big companies back into public ownership.

As the film proceeds, it becomes increasingly obvious that Bruno has dirt on Daniel which could ruin Daniel’s public and private life. Daniel asks how much he can pay to make the problem go away, but is flummoxed when Bruno is not really interested in the money. From beginning to end, the film makes it clear that it is on the side of the good guys.

But is it any good? Well, yes, but only to a certain extent. On the positive side, it has the atmosphere of a tight theatre play (and I mean this as a compliment). Despite a couple of excursions by Daniel outside the pub, the unities of time place and action are largely followed, and the acting is superb. It is a rare film where Daniel Brühl finds himself out-acted by someone else – in this case, the great Peter Kurth as Bruno.

But it somehow doesn’t feel angry – or vicious – enough. I think there are two reasons for this. For a start, the main character is played both by and as Daniel Brühl. Sharing the same name and having a similar professional history, the character we see on screen may well be a complete arsehole, but he’s being played (and directed) by that nice Daniel Brühl, so we can never quite ascribe to him the necessary level of evil.

Second, the real people responsible for rising rents in Berlin are not overpaid actors, but landlords who are raising rents and property developers who only seem to want to build luxury buildings that they can rent or sell for great profits. By putting himself on the line, and showing himself to be a self-deprecating sport, Brühl in a sense acts as a cover for the real villains.

Having said all that, there is a reason why Brühl has been regarded as a national treasure round here since his breakthrough roles in Goodbye Lenin and Die Fetten Jahren sind Vorbei. It’s not just his acting – he has generally shown himself to be charming and socially responsible. He even starred in a film with my mate Berit. Which is why I can still forgive him his occasional lapses into franchisedome, especially as he appears in enough films like this which show that he’s still a Proper Actor (and now Director too).

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