The German-Czech drama “Je Suis Karl” aims to offer a hard-hitting diagnosis of modern Europe and how the far right co-opts impressionable young adults. But the director, Christian Schwochow, sets up a gut-punch that doesn’t land. Big swings don’t count for much when basics of plausibility and structure are so muddled.
In a prologue styled as found footage, Alex (Milan Peschel) and Inés (Mélanie Fouché) smuggle a Libyan migrant, Yusuf (Aziz Dyab), into Germany. Around two years later, someone delivers a package bomb to Alex and Inés’s building. The explosion kills Inés, the couple’s young sons and several others but spares Alex and his older daughter, Maxi (Luna Wedler), who aren’t there.
The news media speculate that Islamist extremists might be responsible. And surely the attack must have something to do with the prologue, right? Not at all: Schwochow merely seizes on the plot-driven expectation that Event A must connect to Event B. Yusuf is a stand-up guy, and the movie exploits him as a device.
Maxi meets Karl (Jannis Niewöhner), who invites her to Prague for a student summit with a vague mission (“We talk about life and, erm, about the future,” he says). Mystifyingly, that’s more or less enough of a pitch. Karl turns out to be a leader in a far-right group that could use a terror victim like Maxi as a face. What viewers (but not Maxi) know before the half-hour mark — a slight spoiler follows — is that Karl is also the bomber and perpetrated the attack with the hope that it might stoke anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim sentiment. However vulnerable Maxi may be, her slowness in comprehending what Karl stands for strains credulity.
Je Suis Karl
Not rated. In German French, English and Czech, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 6 minutes. Watch on Netflix.
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