THE KIDNEY. IT’S the one organ in our bodies designed to function as a kind of ‘spare’. We are born with two, but can survive on one, if we really have to. Hence the idiomatic association that takes the donation of a kidney all the way to the top of the emotional weighing stakes. Risks and Side Effects, directed by Michael Kreihsl is a deeply funny and wise tale about how to measure love. It will be available online and without cost, as part of the 8th European Film Festival South Africa, which runs from 14 until 24 October 2021.
Kristin (Inka Friedrich) teaches Pilates. She’s married to Arnold (Samuel Finzi), who is a busy architect at the pinnacle of his professional life. They have an active lifestyle, a beautiful adult daughter, and all that opens and shuts in their upper middle class suburban existence. And then, medical science intervenes. As it does.
A tale that has some utterly brilliant hairpin bends in its trajectory, Risks and Side Effects is not so much about the sturm and drang of grave illness as it is about the fabric of relationships. It recalls a scenario in the Netflix-released Israeli series Shtisel, directed by Alon Zingman, where the hypothesis of a kidney donation comes up in philosophical discourse and the character Zvi Aryeh (Sarel Piterman) takes the question home to his wife and family. And it’s a cornerstone question which upends all the values associated with loving someone. What would you sacrifice to keep that person healthy? How far would you go?
Told with the inimitable deadpan grown-up humour that’s characteristic of German film making, of the calibre you might recall from the 2016 film Toni Erdmann, this work is carried on the wave of beautiful performances and brilliant photography. It is a wry essay about values that will continue bouncing about in your head and your relationship for many conversations.
With a gorgeous cameo featuring Michaela Kis as Zorica, the clumsy, forgetful Eastern European nanny who sees the issue to its quick and brings her saints on board, the film offers a foray into psychoanalysis and pharmaceuticals as it confronts affairs of the heart and body head on; there is a strong distance upheld between the direction of this film and its characters, and you find yourself on the side of the former, looking in with a cynical grin at the earnestness of manipulated beliefs and medical testimony.
Evocative, in this way of the arm’s length that the Coen brothers presents in their 2009 film A Serious Man, this work is about how society ticks and how lies are woven. It’s exceptional. And it won’t leave you untouched.
Risks and Side Effects is directed by Michael Kreihsl and features a cast headed by Samuel Finzi, Inka Friedrich, Pia Hierzegger, Michaela Kis, Tijan Marie, Thomas Mraz, Daniela Mutafova, Thomas Schubert, Susanna Wiegand and August Zirner. Written by Micheal Kreihsl and Stefan Vögel, it is produced by Dieter Pochlatko and Jakob Pochlatko and features creative input by Wolfgang Thaler (cinematography), Andrea Wagner (editing), Eva Roth (casting) and Julia Oberndorfinger and Hannes Salat (production design). In German with English subtitles, it is part of the 8th European Film Festival South Africa, screening online and without cost from 14-24 October 2021.