Berlin 2023

Till the End of the Night review – well-acted but distracted exploration of love and identity

Christoph Hochhäusler’s queer crime drama has electric chemistry to boot, but loses itself in an overly complicated and winding plot

Buried feelings, past mistakes and a thorny, knotty undercover operation come together in Christoph Hochhäusler’s Till the End of the Night, a decidedly downbeat exploration of love and identity. Leni (Thea Ehre) is celebrating. In her boyfriend’s smartly decorated apartment, her friends throw a surprise party to mark her recent release from jail. They drink, smoke, and relax, while her partner, Robert (Timocin Ziegler), watches carefully from a distance. An unknown quantity to many of them, Robert is – as one friend puts it – part of a species that “thinks with its spinal cord.”

Once the festivities die down, and everyone leaves, Robert brusquely tells Leni to drop the act. Leni isn’t free – she has been released on an undercover mission to bring down her former boss, local drug dealer Victor (Michael Sideris), and Robert is the police officer tasked with keeping her in line. Complications arise from the outset: Robert, who is gay, is dealing with his feelings and desires towards Leni, a trans woman who was imprisoned for dealing in order to fund her transition.

Florian Plumeyer’s screenplay isn’t interested in keeping anything simple. It unfurls slowly to reveal a complex web of mismatched feelings and a spiky toxicity at the centre of Leni and Robert’s relationship that repeatedly derails the carefully planned undercover sting. This tendency to deviate from their relationship, to the operation, and back again, is one of the film's weaker elements. Rather than focusing solidly on their dynamic, the film adds increasingly more complicated elements to the central plot, which distracts rather than intrigues.

At the heart of Till the End of the Night are Leni and Robert, and the incredible performances by both Ehre and Ziegler that weaves a intricate tale of love, hate, loss, and acceptance. Theirs is a relationship that has a life of its own where the consequences of which cannot be controlled. The lines between them are consistently blurred, and any comprehension of power dynamics is passed over in favour of an uneasy tension that seeps into every innocent – and not so innocent – interaction.

Ziegler and Ehre have an electric, compelling chemistry that is evident from the start. In an early scene when they are preparing dinner together, small movements speak volumes: Robert moves Leni aside gently, his hands on her hips, his body moving briefly against hers before he pulls away. She sarcastically responds to his instructions on how to correctly cut an onion, a teasing lightness in her voice. Whenever they are on screen together, they are mesmerising.

Ehre brilliantly portrays Leni as outwardly confident – she refuses to acquiesce to Robert’s demands that she stay within the proximity of her ankle tag, fighting back against his attempts at authority, though this belies a need to be loved and understood for her whole self. It is Ziegler who truly shines, however, in his portrayal of masculinity in crisis. Robert is demanding and harsh, struggling with his own identity and the larger case, but his outbursts run parallel to quieter moments of tenderness where his plaintive eyes shimmer with unhidden emotion.

From behind window panes, in neon-lit dance floors, and kitchens where the shadows loom large, Robert and Leni exist in the space between enemies and lovers. Till The End of The Night is not, at times, easy viewing, nor is it without major issues. But in its depiction of two people with the potential to elevate or destroy each other, it is near flawless.

Till The End of The Night was screened as part of the Berlin Film Festival 2023. A UK release date is yet to be announced.

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