Tor Iben’s The Visitor is the story of a man’s sexual awakening. Cibrâil (Sinan Hancili) is happily living with his girlfriend, Christine (Martina Hesse) in Berlin. Cibrâil is a young police patrolman whose day to day routine occasionally sees him having to deal with homophobic attacks. Largely he is disinterested in gay matters (particularly the sexual details of Christine’s hair dressers love life), and gets much of his off-duty enjoyment from training for a marathon. All is calm and serene in Cibrâil’s world (as far as the world of a patrolman can be), until Christine’s cousin, Marco (Engin Sert), arrives from Rome for a visit.
With Marco’s arrival, Cibrâil begins to feel a fascination with the man. This is new territory for Cibrâil, who soon begins to realise that this fascination is sexual attraction. Cibrâil’s world falls to pieces in the wake of this burgeoning identity. His feelings toward Marco are indeed reciprocated, however it isn’t long before Christine is wise to the circumstances. Following a confrontation, both Marco and Christine leave Cibrâil who is left to attempt to integrate his new homosexual identity in to the life he’s been living as a straight man.
The first thing that is evident about The Visitor is that it was shot on an incredibly small budget, so it suffers from a ‘home movie’ look, however, don’t let that put you off, as Ibsen has a keen eye for cinematography; initially the characters exist within the starkly formal architectural structure of Berlin’s cityscapes, juxtaposed with lush gardens and parkland. These spaces are used as symbols of Cibrâil’s changing identity; original? No, but certainly visually interesting.
The use of space and location is key to the narrative flow of this film, the problem is that it’s fairly inconsistent, sadly leaving the film with an unfinished quality. With small budgets, an unpolished finish is to be expected, but the successes Iben achieves with cinematography are marred by the quality of the editing; there is an overreliance on fading to black, which, rather than punctuating dramatic moments, serves to disrupt the overall rhythm of the film, resulting in a pace that feel laborious and a film that appears to last much longer than the 70 minute run time. This is compounded by the sparsity of the narrative and the dialogue. To turn this on it’s head, let’s say that the subdued style Iben is going for, i.e. a simple narrative, and no-frills dialogue, needs something richer (i.e. a discernable purpose and intelligence behind every structural, stylistic and thematic choice) to sustain it to allow the film to function and not feel starved of nutrients, without which it feels terribly basic. For example, Lisa Aschan’s She Monkeys showcased a similar style, but the elements of which the film was comprised were complimentary; the editing succinct, the score suitably measured, the structure well defined, etc. To have all elements operating solely on a basic level leaves a film that is firmly in danger of being hopelessly disengaging and decidedly amateurish. That’s not to say that The Visitor is a pale experience as there are real moments of promise here.
The naive style of The Visitor has its own charm reminiscent of the ‘kitchen sink’ dramas being produced in the UK in the 1960s. It feels ‘down to earth’, bleak even; the characters (except for Marco), and indeed the city, seem to be lacking for any real vibrancy or vitality. Everything is decidedly sombre and functional, which in itself is strikingly aligned to the image of Soviet-era Berlin (although considering how ever present Berlin is in the narrative, I’m not sure how the Berlin tourist authorities would feel about that). Surprisingly, intentional or not, this adds a certain strength and context to the piece; with flashes of beauty and culture, the city, like the lead character, seems to be transitioning from captivity to freedom.
However, despite the bleakness, the moments where Cibrâil finds himself engaging with Marco, subtly revealing the complexity of a character operating instinctually, are the moments where this film shines. In particular, a scene where Cibrâil enters Marco’s bedroom while Marco sleeps; all Cibrâil can do is take in the scent of Marco’s body; it’s highly intimate, highly erotic, and brilliantly executed.
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