- Eline Gehring directs a modest film interweaving LGBTQ+ and integration themes, whose strength lies in the empathy it cultivates for its protagonist
From the opening frames of this film, the first hint of intolerance rears its head when young Berliner city-dweller of Iranian origins Nico (Sara Fazilat) is riding along on her bicycle and ends up shrieking “arsehole” at a woman driving a Fiat 500 who almost rams her off the road trying to get past her. Nico is a geriatric nurse by profession, and she exudes experience and humanity in her work. She’s joy personified, to the point of infecting her two patients - elderly German lady Brigitte (Brigitte Kramer) and senior gent Fernandez (Isidoro Fernandez Mompelier) - with her good humour. Rosa (Javeh Asefdjah), the young woman who takes over from Nico at the end of her shift, is her best friend, also of Persian origin. Nico can talk to her about anything (in Farsi), like whether not wearing the chador in Berlin is a victory, as Nico sees it, or whether those who still wear it should actually be respected, as Rosa believes.
Screened within the MiX International LGBTQ+ Film Festival after premiering at the Max Ophüls Film Festival and scooping various awards at a range of German events, Nico is a modest film highly desired by its protagonist Sara Fazilat who also produced the movie as well as writing the screenplay, ensuring its selection for Berlinale Talents and eventually making it her graduation film at the Deutschen Film- und Fernsehakademie in Berlin. She wrote the screenplay alongside the film’s director Eline Gehring, and Francy Fabritz who’s also responsible for the film’s cinematography. It’s a modest movie in terms of both its budget and its language, which is intentionally schematic and linear in order to emphasise the essential nature of the subject matter.
Nico believes that she’s perfectly integrated into the multicultural society in which she lives. But one evening, after attending a mini-rave in a park which involved drinking, dancing and exchanging multiple kisses, she sets off home slightly worse for wear and accidentally knocks into a woman walking with two men. What starts out as nothing more than a spat soon turns into a full-on xenophobic brawl (they mock her by shouting “Allah Akbar” while assaulting her). Nico wakes up in hospital, shocked by this experience, as if it were the first time she’d come face to face with pureblood racists. A few days later, her bruises still smart, but it’s the feeling inside of her that really burns, as if a great illusion has been shattered in crushing defeat. Nico no longer laughs; she doesn’t joke and she seems lost in her thoughts. We don’t know what it is exactly that leads her to head to a gym and sign up to karate lessons from an unyielding master with a heart of gold (66-year-old German martial arts artist Andreas "Karate Andy" Marquardt), who’s actually a cross between Mr Miyagi in The Karate Kid and Frankie Dunn in Million Dollar Baby, but an encounter with the young Macedonian illegal immigrant Ronny (Sara Klimoska) might just put a smile back on Nico’s face and restore faith to her heart.
Nico doesn’t add much to the hundreds of other independent films exploring the topic of integration and LGBTQ+ themes, primarily because the two subjects aren’t effectively interwoven and fail to take full flight in the film’s 79-minute duration. Its strength lies in the empathy which is cultivated for its protagonist, whose sharp eyes, bewildered and angry expressions, and indomitable energy are captured by the director with freshness and intensity. Whether discrimination can really be tackled by using karate is a question we’ll leave up to audiences. But it can certainly prove useful when confronted with arseholes.
(Translated from Italian)
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