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Exile (2020)
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by Jay Seaver

"Living with prejudice is exhausting."
4 stars

It takes "Exile" quite a while to get around to a question that viewers may be asking from the start, and though the answer is not trivial, the audience has likely been worn down enough by that point to consider it somewhat secondary. That trick is more impressive than it sounds; a film that plays out on as individual a scale as this one can often lose track of the larger point as it focuses on one character, but writer/director Visar Morina mostly avoids that.

Xhafer Kryeziu (Misel Maticevic) is a Kosovar chemical engineer who has lived in Germany long enough to seem more or less completely assimilated; he's got a good job that supports wife Nora (Sandra Hüller) as she works on her PhD and looks after their three children. But there are things that never let him forget that he's an outsider to some, such as how colleagues like Urs (Rainer Bock) always seem to slow-walk his requests and find ways to undermine him... or the rat he finds tied to his front gate when arriving home one afternoon.

Xhafer isn't always easy to like; he's carrying on an affair with an Albanian-speaking cleaning lady (Flonja Kodheli) but bristles at helping to translate things she must write for immigration authorities into German, for instance, and there's something seemingly off about him even in seemingly ordinary situations. Morina and star Misel Maticevic walk a fine line there, careful to let the audience clearly see the uglier side of his personality while not losing sympathy. Maticevic captures how Xhafer often (but not always) handles things badly rather than maliciously, and when the end approaches and he's both feeling more pressure and having more dredged up, it's never anything that hits just one side of the character. There's this continuing, human loop of "yeah, but..." where he's concerned, urging the audience to both understand and hold him accountable.

The same goes with the people around him; as much as Morina more or less acknowledges within the film that Urs is a very familiar sort of antagonist for this sort of story, one has to kind admire how much Rainer Bock seems to make a study of that sort of unctuousness, what sort of miserable creature he is without being a cartoon villain. Between him, Xhafer, and Uwe Preuss as Xhafer's boss Koch, I spent a fair amount of time marveling at how familiarly dysfunctional this organization was in ways that may or may not have much to do with the sort of prejudice Xhafer is keyed to notice. Sandra Hüller is also given license to be prickly and annoyed as Nora, both to show that this isn't anything new with Xhafer and that she's got her own issues to push against. One wonders, at times, whether frustration is about to overwhelm the rest of their bond.

There's not a whole lot of story there, and Morina pointedly denies the audience much resolution, but all of that plays into showing how oppressive living with that sort of prejudice is. Occasionally it's visual, like how Xhafer never quite seems to fit in his brightly-colored suburban neighborhood, or how the camera will seemingly detach from the action and go looking for something, but mostly it's the placing things in slightly higher relief. It's not just the fact of it, but the seeming impossibility of communicating it to those who don't face it and are invested in thinking of themselves as better than that; the closest thing to obvious bigotry is Koch trying to praise the team's differences and having it come off as a tremendously backhanded compliment. There's a steady background hum here that merges with the foreground, so that the fact that Xhafer, Urs, and Nora are all flawed people makes it harder - how do you know where the line is between something one can maybe do better oneself and something you can't fix about the world?

It feels exhausting in ways that movies with more plot-intensive structures more focused on specific goals often don't, and it may be a larger, more intensive dose than some may want. It seems worth disclosing that tech issues forced me to watch it in two hour-long chunks, so I don't know what the intended effect of taking the film in for two hours straight is. Then again, I'm fortunate enough to not know what it's like to live with this for one's entire life, though I suspect that the film has at least given me a somewhat better idea of it.

link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=34064&reviewer=371
originally posted: 02/01/21 05:50:30
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Directed by
  Visar Morina

Written by
  Visar Morina

Cast
  Misel Maticevic
  Sandra Hüller
  Rainer Bock
  Thomas Mraz
  Flonja Kodheli



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