Verdacht, Der (2008)

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When a girl dies, a small town’s suspicion turns to the outsider among them!
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vt Suspect
Germany / 26 minutes / color / IFS (Internationale Filmschule Köln), SWR/arte, Mitteln der Filmstiftung NRW Dir & Scr: Felix Hassenfratz Pr: Mathias Casanova Cine: Yoshi Heimrath Cast: Anne Weinknecht, Heinrich Schmieder, Daniela Holtz, Eva-Maria Kurz, Leon Hofmann, Peter Höfermeyer.

An award-winning exploration of the way that suspicion, however great or little a basis it might have in fact, can poison both a community and even the minds of those closest to the person suspected.

Conny (Anne Weinknecht).

In a small town somewhere in southern Germany, Conny (Weinknecht), the baker’s wife, is a stalwart of the church choir. Her husband Udo (Schmieder) is regarded by the locals as something of an outsider, because he was born elsewhere. Conny’s mother (Kurz) especially resents Udo because the outsider inherited the family bakery through marrying Conny.

Conny’s mother (Eva-Maria Kurz) makes it plain she has never liked Udo, the interloper.

Three months or so ago there was a murder locally: a young woman from out of town was shot dead. The police investigation went nowhere. Now the cops have had a tipoff: Udo was seen giving the young woman a lift the night before the discovery of her body. Udo is brought in for questioning, but the cops soon satisfy themselves that he’s unconnected with the killing. He kept silent about picking up the young hitchhiker because he didn’t want to broadcast that, he and Conny having had a row earlier in the evening, he also took the young woman for a drink.

Even Conny’s best friend Anne (Daniela Holtz) assumes that Udo’s guilty.

Even now Udo tries to keep it from Conny that he’s been questioned. However, her best friend and fellow-chorister, Anne (Holtz), breaks the news to her.

We can tell that there are strains in Conny’s marriage. Not only is Udo habitually cold to her but the two seem incapable of communicating with each other. Once, when Conny asks Udo if he still loves her, his response is to kiss her fiercely and tell her she talks too much—which of course doesn’t answer her urgent question. The point is cleverly underscored in the scene where Udo admits to her that, yes, he gave the young woman a lift and, yes, he had a drink with her: Udo and Conny are shown as far apart as they can be from each other while still remaining in the same frame:

Soon the bakery’s trade drops off to almost nothing and Conny is being cold-shouldered even by the other members of the choir; even Anne, though she will speak to Conny in private, will not in public. One night Udo catches some kids in the yard and one of them (Hofmann) tells Conny what really she must know already:

Kid: “We wanted to find the gun. The one he killed her with. He buried it in the garden.”
Conny: “Who says that?”
Kid: “Everybody.”

The kid (Leon Hofmann) tells Conny what everyone’s thinking.

She’s already found a bloodstain on one of Udo’s shirts (he explained it as the consequence of a work injury, and showed her the cut thumb in question, but her suspicion has lingered that he’s not telling her the whole truth) and in due course she’ll find out he owns a gun (he insists he bought it recently—for fear, we assume, that the locals might become physically threatening—but again Conny has difficulty believing him). In the end she must make a choice between the trust she should have in the husband she loves and the omnipresent, unanimous assumption of the locals that he’s a murderer.

Conny (Anne Weinknecht) and Udo (Heinrich Schmieder), the incommunicative couple.

The conclusion of this impressive little movie is bound to infuriate many viewers, and it came as a bit of a startlement to me. But in retrospect it’s perfectly in keeping with all that we’ve seen earlier.

Der Verdacht won a number of awards, including a Deutscher Kurzfilmpreis (2008) and a Studio Hamburg Nachwuchspreis (also 2008). It’s a movie that packs quite a punch. You can watch it with English subtitles at the Short Film Connection site.

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