The Visitor

TLA Releasing,

Tor Iben

Sinan Hancili,
Martina Hesse,
Engin Sirt
Peter Beck

Unrated, 70 minutes

Tabla Rosas
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online August, 2013

This wasn’t planned but the two titles that I chose to review this month wound up both being from Germany. Each was filmed in Berlin and, coincidentally, features a few of the same landmarks  – most notably a giant metal sculpture, installed on a river, called “Molecular Man.” Cibrâil, named after the title character, is a 2011 film that was written and directed by Tor Iben. It has been released here in the U.S. as The Visitor.

Cibrâil is a young, Turkish policeman who lives in Berlin with his girlfriend, Christine. She owns a small gallery. They seem like a happy couple but there’s also an underlying tension. Cibrâil is often restless; the film begins with him lying awake in bed. Unable to sleep, he goes out running. Cibrâil does this a lot. He’s training for a marathon, but this sounds like an excuse. Their lives seem mostly routine, even the sex seems mechanical.

Christine gets a call out of the blue from her cousin, Marco. He’s flying in from Rome, where he works as a DJ, and asks if he can stay with them for a week. Christine is tied up with an art opening and she asks Cibrâil if he can pick Marco up at the airport. The two guys hit it off. Cibrâil is unaware, at this point, that Marco is gay and he doesn’t discover this until later. Still, this strange man’s presence in the apartment is making him restless again; he stands in Marco’s doorway and watches him while he sleeps.

Much of the film is told in shorthand and so we don’t know a lot about Cibrâil. Since this is never articulated in the script, we have to surmise that Cibrâil is a closet case who has never admitted the truth even to himself. And now their houseguest is awakening feelings in him that he can no longer deny. Marco doesn’t appear to be leading Cibrâil on -  at least not at first. Anything that might be construed as flirting is far from obvious and mostly harmless. Joining Cibrâil as he runs, Marco mentions that he wants to be muscular and fit and “a real macho man” like him. Several scenes of escalating sexual tension follow. On another run, Marco falls behind and, out of breath, asks Cibrâil to take his pulse. Impatient, he pulls up his shirt and takes Cibrâil’s hand off his wrist and moves it to his hairy chest to feel his heartbeat… their eyes meet and there is an awkward silence.

It was always a foregone conclusion that these two very masculine men will wind up in each other’s arms sooner or later. Hell, you see it in the trailer, and in the pictures on the DVD box, so I’m not giving anything away. (And besides, what else would this film be about?) Their inevitable tryst is quite hot – if short. It’s apparent that Cibrâil’s lust has gotten the better of him. He’s also not very bright; he’s doing his girlfriend’s cousin in the shower while she sleeps across the hall. Oh, the power of repressed hormones – which is what this film seems to be mostly about.

For good or bad, the director takes a minimalist approach to his subject. A good part of The Visitor is silent. There is very little character development but a few brief dialogue snatches provide hints. Cibrâil reveals a discomfort with gay men when he refuses to go with Christine to her hairdresser. Afterwards, he does not want to hear it when Christine tells him that Ollie has a new boyfriend and that he recently became "active.” It’s no surprise that he exhibits signs of homophobia; this way he can keep lying to himself. Aside from whatever personal shame he may feel, there is also Cibrâil’s older partner on the police force. While not explicitly homophobic, he's cut from the same mold as Joe Friday on Dragnet.

Because we know almost nothing about the leads, it’s difficult to ascertain whether the attraction is only physical or if something deeper is going on. They come across as blank slates but their contrasting personalities are obvious. Cibrâil is always serious, restless, and usually running. Marco is more free-spirited. While sightseeing, he asks a man to take his picture and then stands on his hands. He also picks up, with ease, a man in a gay bar.

The Visitor’s main plot is nothing new. Men (and women) have been falling for attractive houseguests since silent films. The Visitor’s pleasures come from watching the subtle sexual tension grow. We get to be voyeurs along with Cibrâil as he checks out Marco any chance that he gets. Much of this is sexy, and some of it’s a little creepy too – as it probably would be in real life. For some, the film might unfold at a snail’s pace, but the dramatic fireworks we usually see on stage and screen don’t always happen in real life. Those looking for a Douglas Sirk melodrama should look elsewhere. The Visitor is understated and subtle, maybe too subtle at times, but I found it to be realistic.

I liked The Visitor. I won’t be dishonest - the film is, at times, clumsy. Overall, the film is a little on the cold side – a little more emotion would be nice - and the ending, while satisfying, is too abrupt. The Visitor is also repetitive – like a few too many scenes of Cibrâil running. And swimming. And working out. The director also overdoes it with the blackouts. Early on, there is footage of a Berlin pride parade and, while it’s nice to see, it has nothing to do with the rest of the film. The moment that Cibrâil realizes that Marco is gay is a little too Tennessee Williams, compared to the quaalude vibe of the rest of the movie. While it helps to propel the plot, it’s a little too coincidental when he just happens to come across Marco getting fellated in a public park (also in the trailer – in fact, almost the entire movie is in that trailer).

Still, all faults aside, there is much to like. Both men are attractive (Cibrâil looks a bit like a rougher Jake Gyllenhaal) and they are frequently seen without their shirts. There is a beautiful close-up of Cibrâil’s finger stroking the beard on Marco’s chin – also seen in the trailer – that I think is better than porn. On the lighter side, I also liked the nicely comic scene when Marco stumbles into the bathroom in his underwear. Leaving the door open, he doesn’t know that his hosts are in the kitchen having coffee and laughing at the sound of his very loud peeing in the next room. The movie needs a few more scenes like this. There are shots of Berlin that add much international flavor. The photography, while not flashy, is mostly effective – even if sometimes too dark. The music is understated, and the use of sound – like the aforementioned toilet scene – is often inspired.

This one isn’t going to stay with me like Brokeback Mountain did, but I was moved by its simple story – even if I had to fill in a lot of the blanks myself. Maybe there could have been more histrionics, but I think the film works better without them. And the movie is only 70 minutes long so it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Then again, I suppose it could have been even a few minutes shorter without all those running scenes.


More On Tor Iben:
The Passenger