Alfred Döblin’s masterpiece “Berlin Alexanderplatz” received its most famous dramatization not in cinema but on television, with Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 3-hour adaptation in 1980. Burhan’s ambitious film Qurbani of the same name refocuses the original from Weimar Era on a 21st. centenarian immigrant from Guinea-Bissau who seeks the right to law but works for a psychopathic drug trafficker.
Cash is one of the reasons Franz (a quietly winning Welket Bungué) stays in the orbit of Reinhold (Albrecht Schuch), a whiny underboss who promises newcomers to Berlin a way out of poverty and discrimination. But Franz’s loyalty is rewarded with Reinhold’s sadistic betrayals, which leave Franz nearly dead and missing half an arm. Reinhold wields a Svengali-like hold over Franz and the women they know, though the character’s questionable magnetism makes that dynamic increasingly baffling.
The clubs and apartments that Franz frequents evoke a Berlin half-world that is both colorful and curiously routine. A panting voiceover attempts to imbue Franz’s struggles with a tragic air, but it all sounds like a stew of ignored warnings and wild missteps. And when Mieze (Jella Haase), a savvy and gemütlich escort, steps in as Franz’s possible savior, she shows herself confident to the point of disbelief (like other female characters in the film).
Qurbani avoids Döblin’s panoramic view of Berlin and the urban montage for a low haze of despair (until a pasted epilogue lets in some sun). Its ‘Berlin Alexanderplatz’ is a nice place to visit, but you might not want to live there for three hours.
Unclassified. In German, with subtitles. Duration: 3 hours 3 minutes. Look through virtual cinemas.