Friday, 17 August 2012

filmbore pick of the week - Das Experiment

Das Experiment

Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel
Screenplay: Mario Giordano, Christoph Darnstädt, Don Bohlinger
Starring: Moritz Bleibtreu, Christian Berkel, Oliver Stokowski
Year: 2001
Language: German
UK rental release: April 2003

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In 1971, Stanford University, California, conducted the infamous "Stanford Prison Experiment", where 24 male students were randomly assigned the role of either a prisoner or a guard. The intention was to monitor the behaviours of human beings in such an environment, and how naturally they evolved into their new positions. Such a brave attempt at manufacturing a judicianal society was cut short after 6 days when the morality of the operation was brought into question...we may never know what events could have occurred in such a habitat.

Then, along comes Mario Girodano, who bases his novel Black Box on the failed experiment, influencing his tale on these true accounts and unravelling the potential chaos that such a practice could have released. Das Experiment is based on said book, and is a bleak, realistic approach to Mario's source material.

The ExperimentStruggling journalist Tarek (Moritz Bleibtreu, Run Lola Run, The Baader Meinhof  Complex) casts his eyes upon an advertisement for an experiment that offers a substantial sum of money. He has the brainwave that an undercover sting on such an operation could benefit him, not only financially, but as the basis of a great story. With the drive that his submission could boost his writing career, he invests in some specialised recording glasses to film his incarceration. On arrival, sporting his new techy specs, he is introduced to the concept of the experiment and, when selected to be a "convict," is given the new moniker, Prisoner 77. 

With his uncontrollable shirking of authority, and a developing conspiratorial companionship with Prisoner 38 (Christian Berkel, Flame And Citron, Black Book), he becomes party to an ever-swelling resentment between the inmates and the guards, leading to unprecedented outbursts and unnecessary refutes. With only his memories (or day-dreams) of a new lover, to keep his breaching insanity at bay, Tarek must keep his wits and strength intact in order to win through and break his news story.

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What could have been a paint-by-numbers true story adaptation is, in fact, a raw, stage-like drama, naturally encompassed by an overall strong cast. It was vital that Oliver Hirschbiegel employ a team of actors capable of absorbing the atmosphere of such an experiment, and imbuing the whole film with a sense of authenticity - which I'm glad to say they achieve with gusto! 

But above all else, our two lead detainees infuse the film with real star quality as two behemoths of German cinema. The unnerving but genuine chemistry between the two is one of the saving graces of the piece.

The other unsung star of the Das Experiment, however, is the set. Simple, clinical, dreary and imposing, the straight forward design of the mock penitentiary is the glue that brings the tension together. An overly fantastical prison, or a obvious hell hole would have made a mockery of the dramatic air presented so confidently in the movie.

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Das Experiment succeeds on multiple counts: a sheer, invigorating drama; an insight into what a passionate writer is prepared to do; an observation into the instinctual appetites of our fellow Homo sapiens; an intense, naturalistic account of bullying and courage; a window into the corrupt methods of an exploitative system. Big Brother...eat your heart out!

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