½ Miete (Half the Rent) is about a computer hacker. Peter (Stephan Kampwirth) is a 30-something boy. He rides a skateboard and his German apartment is cluttered with gadgetry and grown-up toys. So absorbed is he in his work – stealing sensitive business information and selling it for exorbitant amounts – that he’s oblivious to the condition of his girlfriend, Julie (Natascha Bub). A doctor, she’s become addicted to sleeping pills and mad with paranoia. When she drowns herself in the bath, Peter rings an ambulance and flees the apartment in shock.Boarding a random train with his laptop, Peter ends up in Cologne where he hopes to conclude his business transaction. Anxious about being traced, he forgoes a hotel and hangs around a series of apartment blocks, taking note of where owners hide their spare keys and using them to gain access to shower and sleep while the owners are out. Soon, this “shadow tenant” begins making connections with the people in the apartments, some of whom are as lonely and isolated as he is.
The idea of a computer hacker infiltrating other people’s lives as he would a machine, via illegal and surreptitious means, is intriguing. Swiss writer-director Marc Ottiker brings it to a satisfying conclusion. The film is produced by Wim Wenders as part of a cycle of “radical digital” films financed by his production house to support young filmmakers. Half the Rent was shot on digital video and blown up to 35 mm. Ottiker also plays with reality, sometimes splitting the screen into four to accelerate an otherwise routine scene.
His key theme is urban alienation, personified by the apartment of Paula (Doris Schretzmayer) that is so stark, obsessively clean and ordered that it looks like an art installation. The film meanders a little in the middle, and is occasionally confusing. But Half the Rent gradually pieces together like a puzzle, and it’s refreshing to have to concentrate, and not wait to be told exactly what you’re seeing.If the 50th Sydney Film Festival were a restaurant, Half the Rent would be a takeaway meal that you’d eat out of a plastic container in your apartment, alone, like a TV dinner. But it would wash down well with a fine German beer.