Berlin and Beyond comes to Palo Alto tonight: ‘The King’s Surrender’ is a brooding study of brotherhood

Feb. 2, 2015, 12:50 p.m.
Scene from "The King's Surrender." Courtesy of Berlin and Beyond Film Festival.
Scene from “The King’s Surrender.” Courtesy of Berlin and Beyond Film Festival.

Stimmung: “mood,” in German. “The Kings Surrender,” a feature of the Bay Area’s Berlin and Beyond Film Festival, has stimmung in spades.

Philipp Leinemann’s second film blurs the boundaries between pursuer and pursued, cop and criminal. In its opening moments, the film follows a SEK (the German equivalent of SWAT) team’s botched drug bust. The stimmung comes into play as the men enter the dimly-lit building. The darkness of the scene is punctuated by gunfire and expletives. It’s confusing viewing because it’s confusing action. As an audience, we’re aware of the inherent danger and a sense of things gone seriously awry. When the dust settles, we realize that our hunch wasn’t groundless: A SEK policeman has been shot and one of the dealer’s accomplices managed to escape amidst the chaos.

The messiness of the entire operation foreshadows the plot to follow. “Surrender” is no clean-cut, good-trumps-evil cop drama. It’s too difficult to distinguish between good and bad here. The film’s opening gambit later broadens into an exploration of a teenage gang’s dynamics, police corruption and the intersection of these seemingly unrelated subjects.

At the center of it all is Nassim (Mohamed Issa) — the 13-year-old son of a grocer, who inadvertently orchestrates the crossing of narrative threads —and Mendes (Misel Maticevic) and Kevin (Ronald Zehrfeld), the leaders of a SEK special unit. The policemen turn on one another; the gang begins to disintegrate. At one point, a confrontation between SEK policemen at a hospital turns violent; a startled nurse calls for the police. “We are the police,” a cop says, his voice weary.

Through it all, Leinemann places heavy emphasis on stimmung. A birthday party is filmed in lurid reds and yellows. A stripper entertains the gang members and alcohol flows freely, but there’s a sinister tinge to the debauchery. Even their celebration is coarsely violent. How fine is the line between drunken reverie and all-out conflict? How many of these men will survive the course of “Surrender”?

The film is saturated with testosterone. There’s only one significant female role (a cop), and the film is otherwise a study in brotherhood, its deterioration or lack thereof. The strength of “The Kings Surrender” lies in its colors and tones, but it risks wallowing in these mood portraits — too many shots of near-darkness and confused dialogue that drain the power from the power of suggestion.

“The Kings Surrender” screens at the Aquarius Theatre in Palo Alto today (‘Feb.’ 2) as a part of the Berlin and Beyond Film Festival. Tickets may be purchased at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/profile/98451.

Contact Madelyne Xiao at madelyne ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Madelyne Xiao '18 was a film writer for the Daily's Arts and Life section.

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