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Wir sind dann wohl die Angehörigen / We Are Next of Kin

Director: Hans-Christian Schmidt (Germany). Year of Release: 2022

Hamburg, the mid-1990s. A young boy with a covered face is being bundled into a car, surrounded by press photographers. His mother puts a protective arm around him and urges the driver to get them out of here.

Cut to: Jan-Philipp is rowing with his 13-year old son Johann. Jan-Philipp has a smug moustache which bristles when johann says he doesn’t want to learn Latin. Johann refuses the copy of Virgil’s Aeniad which dad thrusts into his hand. He’d rather be playing with the band that he’s set up with some mates from school. Jan-Philipp retreats to the fridge. I only caught a glimpse but I’m pretty sure it carried an “Atomkraft Neine Danke” magnet. It’s certainly that sort of fridge.

After the row, Jan-Philipp storms out and decides to sleep in his other house which is opposite. You think that this one looks big? It’s really just a spare But, as Johann was to explain to the police, dad has a lot of books and needs somewhere to store them. In case you’re getting incredulous, this is all based on the true story of Jan-Phillip Reemtsma, cigarette manufacturer and one of the 150 richest people in Germany. Don’t expect his everyday life to be anything like ours.

The next day, Johann is waked by his mother who warns him that they are about to experience an adventure. Jan-Philipp has gone missing and suspected kidnappers have left a message demanding 20 million Deutschmarks. Mother Ann Kathrin calls their lawyer (of course they have a lawyer, and of course they are on first name terms). She refuses to do comply with police recommendations until she has consulted the lawyer first.

Two policemen – with codenames Vera and Nickel – are stationed in the house on a permanent basis, as is a family friend Christian, who has driven up from Frankfurt-Main. With the regular visits by the lawyer, you might expect things to get a bit cluttered, but they seem to have enough space. Johann is withdrawn from school with the excuse that he’s got mumps, though I’m not sure why this is necessary. They only come across one press photographer, and he gives up his film willingly.

Wir sind dann wohl die Angehörigen is set in the 1990s, and it shows. Maybe not in a Wedding Singer way, where no-one in the film wore clothes that were not hip in that specific period. Nonetheless, every so often you notice people watching videos, playing CDs or using faxes (maybe strike the last one. Much modern German bureaucracy is still dependent on the use of faxes). The fact that the ransom money is in Deutschmarks, not Euros, also gives us a sense of the past.

Tp be fair, this is all done with admirable understatement. However, the plot has the feel of a 1990s tv movie in which no-one is expected to actually do anything. Most of the action takes part inside the house. It’s a huge house, which at least brings variety, but often the biggest plot development involves someone going into the garden. Now I despise the inanity of Megablockbusters as much as the next woman, but I prefer to watch films in which something happens. Anything.

For the best part of 2 hours, we view a household of people waiting for the next demand by the kidnappers. Occasionally, the phone rings and we hear a barely understandable voice making inexplicable demands. Sometimes, a money-drop is organised, but is botched by the police who are unable to stay out of sight. The money demanded rises from 20 million to 30 million. But for most of the time, everyone sits around the house looking glum.

What dramatic tension exists comes mainly from the conflict between Ann Kathrin and her lawyer on one side, and Vera and Nickel on the other. Both sides are obviously control freaks – the police are unused to coming across anyone with the wealth and self-confidence to stand up to them, whereas the yuppie and her hired help grow frustrated at the police’s inability to catch the kidnappers, combined with a great ability to mess up the simplest tasks.

It’s hard to know who you want to fail more – the arrogant rich or the cops. You (by which I definitely mean I) find yourself wishing for a third possible scenario in which the kidnappers just take the money and put it to much better use that it has been used so far. But the kidnappers are too poor to be afforded any screen time in a film which is more concerned about the trauma of the rich about paying money they wouldn’t miss than in any serious human tragedy.

Much depends on your reaction to a particular scene. It’s Easter, and after searching for Easter Eggs (well, pieces of fruit, because this is not a family which approves of you enjoying anything which isn’t good for you) in their huge garden, he says complacently that he’s found everything. “No you haven’t”, mum says, “look inside”. Where he finds that she’s bought him a Gibson guitar. For Easter, which is not even a proper present holiday. How the other half lives, eh?

There is an inherent problem with most films and books which are based on real stories, and that is that much of real live is boring, and consists of long pauses in which nothing really happens. This film is, at least, authentic in that is retains these dull periods. The problem is that they make up most of the film. This must be the least exciting film about a violent abduction that has ever been made. Any action that might generate some excitement only takes place off screen.

There might be an intelligent character study in here somewhere, but I never felt engaged enough to try to find out. Maybe I had to be there in 1996. Or maybe it was just a film about people who have nothing to do with me.

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