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by Martin Sulik

grade: 7

In The Interpreter, it is language that is one of the key factors staging the relationship not only between two men but, more broadly, between two nations, one of which has a strong debt to the other.

History. Memory.

Ali is eighty years old and a retired Slovakian translator. He cannot forget his past, when his family was murdered by the Nazis. Georg is a seventy-year-old ex-teacher with a taste for the good life, women and alcohol. The son of a former SS officer, he cannot relate to his father and does nothing but run away from him. When the two – Ali and Georg – meet, a long and sometimes difficult path of growth begins for both of them, as well as a firm friendship, despite their initial differences.

Based on a conflict in which a longing for justice Ali joins the unsuspecting Georg in Vienna, Slovakian filmmaker Martin Šulik has made a road movie that – at first not too original, but with interesting ideas – meticulously analyses some fundamental passages of history, without expecting to tell us anything particularly new, other than a beautiful friendship and the desire to atone in countries such as Austria and Germany. The film, The Interpreter (Dolmetscher), a co-production between Slovakia, the Czech Republic and, last but not least, Austria, was first presented at the 68th Berlin Film Festival in the Berlinale Special section, and then in the official selection at the Diagonale 2019.

The most striking factor in The Interpreter is, as mentioned above, the unusual but firm friendship between the two protagonists: in a delicate and, fortunately, rhetorical-free way, a progressive change is staged starting from an initial mistrust on the part of the elderly Ali, which slowly leads to the birth of a genuine friendship that goes beyond all languages and borders. And it is precisely language – as the title suggests – one of the key factors that stages the relationship not only between two men but, more broadly, between two countries in which one has a strong debt to the other.

In this respect, Ali’s character is immediately shown – despite the strong anger and desire for justice that initially move him – to be more “open” towards those who come from another country, more familiar with a life straddling two or more cultures. Georg, on the other hand, held back by being able to speak only German, has always remained in his native country, avoiding (on purpose?) a confrontation with history and with his own family’s past. His character, therefore, will experience firsthand this important and fundamental change needed to develop the story. A foreseen but necessary change.

At this point, it is natural to ask the question: if we think of all the films that have been made since World War II, what is new about a work like The Interpreter? How does it “stand out from the crowd”? Probably few will remember all the film’s nuances.

Dealing with subjects such as Holocaust and, above all, Remembrance, canons tend to repeat. Especially in the road movie formula. Yet The Interpreter follows its own thematic and narrative line without letting itself be excessively influenced by what has been done in the past. On the contrary, it stands out for its neat, virtuosity-free script and direction, which nonetheless include important twists and considerable emotional shocks, especially when the film draws to a close.

One last point: the final dolly – showing a moved Georg in a small suburban graveyard – is very impressive and particularly significant in terms of classifying the story of the two characters as a self-contained episode and, consequently, distancing oneself from something that – even after many, many years – continues to hurt as if it had only happened yesterday.

Original title: Dolmetscher
Directed by: Martin Sulik
Country/year: Slovakia, Czech Republic, Austria / 2018
Running time: 113’
Genee: drama, comedy
Cast: Peter Simonischek, Jiri Menzel, Zuzana Mauréry, Anita Szvrcsek
Screenplay: Martin Sulik
Cinematography: Martin Strba
Produced by: Titanic, In Film Praha, Coop99 Filmproduktion

Info: The Interpreter’s page on the website of the Berlinale