There's a sickening familiarity in watching a camera pick out a young man in a crowd gathered to listen to a politician. You just know he's going to open fire, yet the West German "Man Under Suspicion" (at the Cineplex) is not another political thriller but rather a thoughtful investigation into the terrorist mentality.
The politician (the veteran Rene Kolldehoff) is unharmed; indeed, the attorney (Maximilian Schell) assigned to defend the accused young man (Robert Aldini) is able to prove that Aldini was simply shooting into the air. Why he did is what concerns writer-director Norbert Kuckelmann.
Schell isn't getting any explanations from Aldini, who will say only that he fired the shots "as a symbolic gesture." Symbolic of what? Schell feels compelled to start digging.
Once an attorney himself, Kuckelmann, who co-wrote the script with Thomas Petz and Dagmar Kekule, tends to let the lawyer in him get in the way of his job as a film maker. Too much of the film is more debate and lecture than drama, but what Kuckelmann has to say is worthwhile and thoroughly thought out.
The gist of his message is that people, especially the young, are attracted to radical political movements out of loneliness and insecurity, finding irresistible the appeal of unity such movements offer. Appropriately, the group's goals are vaguely defined, its slogans of the "I'm mad as hell and won't take it anymore" variety) as much of the cant of the left as of the right).
"Man Under Suspicion," done in a docudrama style, isn't nearly as taut and suspenseful as it ought to be. The irony of Aldini's symbolic gesture, which nobody but his fellow conspirators can interpret, is lost. The film is well-sustained by its performances, however, especially those of Schell; brown-eyed Lena Stolze as Aldini's devoted, self-possessed sister, and Wolfgang Kieling as a veteran free-lance news photographer forever seeking that big break and obsessed with conspiracy theories. Schell brings a rumpled charm to the attorney, who represents what's best in human nature without being smug about it. He's reflective enough to recognize his own loneliness in Aldini's--and his own longings in his attraction to Stolze, who he is all too aware that she is virtually the same age as his own daughter.
In its sentiments and level of achievement "Man Under Suspicion" (Times-rated Mature for complex themes) is quite respectable but not at all exciting. That it has been selected as West Germany's official entry for Oscar nomination honors simply does it a disservice, making it seem no more than another earnest TV movie alongside the more daring and original films that West German produced last year.
'MAN UNDER SUSPICION'
A Spectrafilm release of FFAT Munchen with Pro-ject Film-produktion im Filmverlag der Autoren, Munich. Exec. producer Inge Richter. Director Norbert Kuckelmann. Screenplay Kuckelmann, Thomas Petz, Dagmar Kekule. Camera Jurgen Jurges, Renato Fortunato. Music Markus Urchs. Art directors Winfried Hennig, Franz Bauer, Michael Adlmuller. Film editor Sigrun Jager. With Maximilian Schell, Lena Stolze, Robert Aldini, Wolfgang Kieling, Kathrin Ackermann, Dr. Manfred Rendl, Reinhard Hauff, Jorg Hube, Klaus Hohne, Robert Atzorn, Patricia Kuckelmann, Markus Urchs. In German, with English subtitles.
Running time: 2 hours. Times-rated: Mature.