Year Released: 2009
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 90 minutes
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Before introducing the first North American screening of his new film, “Nothing Personal,” debut director Mathias Gokalp commented that the film was written before the current global financial crisis began. He also mused how it might be hard for North American audiences to get a grip on the Euro-centric subtleties of the film. Neither comment ought to detract one from seeing this carefully scripted, skillfully edited, and darkly funny film.
The film works as both a parody of life in the paranoid world of big business, and as a drama about those who have been pulled far too deeply into this lifestyle to understand how it has ruined them. The plot is less important than the concepts here: a bunch of corporate-types are at a cocktail party held in a museum. The entire film takes place at this party, which is actually a corporate training exercise, where people are graded on how they interact with certain other people. When one person misunderstands something that one of the coaches says, a rumor unleashes a chain of events that ends up destroying those most worthy of this fate. The rather hapless coach (Jean-Pierre Darroussin, who I also liked in “Jury Duty” earlier this year), is an actor making an extra few Euros on his night off. He is the only one who knows what is going on, but seems raather oblivious – or indifferent – to the ramifications of it all.
“Nothing Personal” unfolds in layers. The same story is told three times (in a manner somewhere between “Rashomon” and “Run Lola Run”), but in this case each version is slightly longer than the previous version, and a few more details are revealed each time. Each take is also told from a different character’s perspective, with each of three people becoming the focus of the film in their turn. Naturally, none of them end up being who we initially think they are.
The comedic aspects of “Nothing Personal” take their time to blossom. Events that are tragic and shocking the first time we see them are hilarious the third time around. Of course, every good comedian knows that repetition is funny. When we see the person who is apparently the loser in the first scene stuffing his face at a buffet, it becomes funny when we see the person who gets the short end of the stick in the second scene doing the same. This film even manages to make the eating of glass funny. In the end, everyone ends up where they deserve to be: the villain, the executor, the hero – but it isn’t until the end that we know which characters are playing which of these archetypes. The social masks that the characters all wear (and which we all may wear in real life) slowly dissolve over the running time, leaving stoic and confident people exposed as the terrified frauds that they are.
Certainly the real-world current financial problems add a level of poignancy to some of the corporate machinations seen in the film, but I suspect that “Nothing Personal” will remain relevant as long as big companies insist on treating their employees like mentally challenged children. In spite of the director’s pre-screening comments, the situations seen on screen are not limited to Europe. In fact, they may even be played too subtly for American audiences, who might be used far more heinous real-life versions of the situations that the film pokes fun at.
Posted on October 27, 2009 in Reviews by James Teitelbaum
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