San Sebastian Film Review: ‘Beyond Words’ – Variety

At a time when the world is more consumed than ever by the intricacies of immigration and expatriation, there’s a strange, conflicted privilege in being what one might call an invisible immigrant: one who blends so well into the social majority of their adoptive country that few might immediately identify them as an outsider, but still lacks the born-and-breds’ sense of personal security and belonging. That’s a quandary rarely addressed in contemporary cinema, so credit to Polish-Dutch filmmaker Urszula Antoniak — who has first-hand understanding of her subject — for articulating some of its trickier subtleties in her muted, stringently composed fourth feature “Beyond Words.” Complex identity politics don’t, however, necessarily make for compelling dramatic stakes in this slender story of a high-flying Berlin immigration lawyer hesitantly confronting his Polish birth roots after his estranged father makes an unexpected reappearance in his life.

Shot in crisp, gleaming monochrome by Lennert Hillege and steadied by rising Polish star Jakub Gierszał’s quiet conviction in the lead, this is typically stern, studied fare from Antoniak — closer to the low-key humanism of her 2009 festival-smash debut “Nothing Personal” than the outright provocation of 2011’s “Code Blue,” even if a questionably judged final reel flirts with something more abrasive. Yet it’s hard to invest much feeling in its protagonist Michal, a chilly, wet-behind-the-ears suit who comes across as Patrick Bateman with skin-deep human-rights credentials, and keeps his most interesting issues to himself until the very end. Antoniak’s spare script doesn’t probe too deeply into his ruptured psyche, meaning much of “Beyond Words” falls in a curious tonal middle ground between earnest and ersatz.

We meet Michal as he’s considering — and ultimately brusquely rejecting — the case of a refugee African poet seeking sanctuary in Germany. Despite…

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