note: This is an English translation of a previously published review in Serbo-croatian. The original version can be found on FAK.hr
Written and directed by: Isabelle Stever
Cast: Maria Furtwängler, Mehmet Sözer, Anne von Keller, Christoph Rath, Dorka Gryllus, Jim Broadbent, Barbara Bouchet
An unnamed Middle Eastern country exists in relative peace, but its first neighbour is in middle of a bloody war. The borders are closed. The ceasefire agreement is about to be signed, which means the opening of the borders and the coming of the refugees.
The city's hotel is packed with foreigners, professionals of war: journalists, reporters, humanitarian workers, delegates of international institutions and non-government organizations. They all wait for the refugees to flock to the refugee camps to take photos of them or with them, give them the packages of help etc.
Being a refugee is a dreadful condition. Just think of it: you work, try to live an honest and decent life, but then suddenly a war comes and although you have nothing to do with it (or are just a pawn in politicians' games) - you lose everything, fearing for your and your family's life. Your only option is to run, to hide, to live in inhumane conditions until you reach some kind of safety and start from scratch, if this is at all possible.
Those refugees are welcomed and helped by people with varying and underlying interests. Some of them honestly believe in postulates of humanity on which the society is built and which are, at least nominally, preached by every existing religion. Others are selfish and do it to feel better and/or morally superior, to gain some good karma or at least to prove to themselves and others that they are good people. Then there are those who do it professionally- without doubt we could call this a cultural achievement - but they are also only human beings with their flaws and vices.
What happens when all those worlds collide? Well, this is the focal point of German authoress' Isabelle Stever's newest movie, “Das Wetter in geschlossenen Räumen” (“The Weather Inside”).
Its English title is certainly more poetic, but the German one is revealing the true paradox of the situation. The movie's protagonist, Dorothea (Maria Furtwängler) is a seasoned PR manager of a humanitarian organization, always near the war and human suffering – but at a safe distance. Despite the raging explosions outside, she feels completely safe in her luxury hotel room while she's working on a project of scholarship funding for the female refugees in Europe. Despite its noble intentions, the project itself is elitistic and completely removed from the refugees' dire reality – a kind of utopia that could be conceived by someone who lives in luxury hotels, attends business meetings and fundraising dinners and enjoys all the benefits of egotistical and self-serving civilization.
Dorothea will happily live her illusion until the moment she meets 24-year old Alec (Mehmet Sözer), one of the few in the area that speak German. They will meet in alcohol-drenched atmosphere of a gala fundraising evening and start an affair, full of expensive liquor, drugs and rock-star attitude. But young Alec is neither stupid nor naïve. He knows Dorothea is his “golden goose” and a ticket to a better life, somewhere far away from the harsh reality of war.
Dorothea, on other hand, doesn't realize her life is slipping from her hands; both her career and life are at jeopardy, with her younger boss (Anna von Keller) being equally unimpressed by her former career achievements and her reckless destruction of the fancy hotel room - all the while Dorothea's scholarship project is bursting at the seams.
There is something deeply cynical and disturbing, terrifying almost, when it comes to professional humanitarianism - and we can see that on Dorothea. Maybe her comment: “My hairdo is part of my job” doesn't seem monstrous enough and flies under the radar, but we'll definitely get an insight into the depravity that hides under the facade of a beautiful and educated middle-aged woman with (fake) integrity. We'll come to understand that there's a reason she's sad and lonely, that her life doesn't have any deeper meaning and that her goal is not the world peace or at least a stable society and education for women. Her goal isn't even money (though she mercilessly spends it) or fame. No, she's a vampire that feeds on reputation and gratitude of both the mighty and the oppressed, and in doing so she's a part of a cynical, vampiric machine that is the humanitarian industry in itself, its main purpose being the mighty high-fiving each other while being admired by the oppressed.
Dorothea is not the worst example of this, just a representative. Her boss is maybe giving off more humanity just by being younger and more inexperienced, believing in the system and sticking by the procedure. Dorothea has been here too long to believe that she would change the world, but this career is everything she has and all that she could draw her reputation from, so her losing control isn't so much a result of her subconscious effort to rebel as it is a simple collision with reality.
Despite all this, Dorothea is not a one-dimensional character and her story is not being told with an arbitrarily founded judgement from a safe distance by the director or the screenwriter. The character herself is very complex and proves to be a major task for the actress, best known for the role in one of the longest-running cop shows in Germany. Maria Furtwängler has accepted the role of Dorothea after a long negotiation and has played it perfectly. Her screen appearance matches the type of her character: elegant, blond, beautiful and cold, with an aristocratic stance. She enters her character fully and wholly and it's a pleasure to watch her.
Alec is also not a simple or typical character. He may be a victim of specific life circumstances, but he doesn't want to stay passive and uses whatever means necessary to get out of his situation. It may not be moral thing to do, but the people he gets involved with are the same or even worse. So Alec has no qualms about playing domination games with Dorothea, and actor Mehmet Sözer matches his colleague Furtwängler perfectly.
Other characters are simpler, but mostly because they don't get a lot of screen time - which is still enough for director Isabelle Stever to deliver shrewd and venomous observations through them. For instance, Jim Broadbent plays an indifferent English ambassador willing to make any deal as long as the price is right, and Barbara Bouchet plays a fictionalized and almost cartoonish version of herself, lost in an unfamiliar world.
Isabelle Stever sets (at least) two themes in this movie and gets to the heart of them. “The Weather Inside” is a portrayal of a destructive relationship and falling out of a personality, but it is also a harch criticism of the bureaucratic relationship the humanitarian business has evolved toward something that should be, and remain, humane compassion. The director doesn't mask her punches, exercising them with utmost control and changing the mood from upsetting, then nuancing it through black humour to openly toxic, all the while staying dead set on target.
As a screenwriter she composed her material from the stories she heard from the humanitarians themselves, and she's not sparing any party in this story. As for her directing, she's reckoning on “Berliner school”; building the atmosphere from humoristic to chaotic and back again through absurdity, playing with the lights and shadows and brilliantly guiding her actors through depths of exploration. Late Harun Farocki's signature script is present in the characters and their relationships, which is no wonder since he is signed as a script consultant for the movie.
“The Weather Inside” is a strong and self-assured movie; one of those that aren't hard to interpret at one's own will. One thing is sure - Isabelle Stever is not giving us a feeling of false security with her portrayal of a society where everyone's either pretending or pretending to be doing something. With this movie she won't be getting attention from wider audiences usually uninterested in serious topics and experiences, but this is potentially thrilling experience for a mindful and observant viewer, interested in the different kinds of people we're sharing the world with.