89 minutes

German director Christian Stahl's debut feature can be seen as a real-life variation on Jacques Audiard's acclaimed prison drama Un Prophète - like that film, Gangsterläufer follows the awakening of a small-time Arab criminal in prison. But unlike Mr. Audiard's hero, Yehya el Achmed does not get out of his three-year jail sentence transformed into a mob godfather: instead, he finds himself facing the very real possibility of expulsion to the land of his father. Yehya is one of the many wannabe gangsters of Berlin's notorious Neukölln area, son of hard-working but rootless Palestinian-Lebanese immigrants whose life was upended by the Lebanese war of the 1930s and found refuge in Germany.

     Mr. Stahl's feature begins as an attempt to understand what would draw such a personable young man - a neighbour of his in the Sonnenallee section of Neukölln - to a life of crime, and soon expands its view to take in his immediate family - two young brothers who seem ready and willing to follow in his footsteps, a kid sister bewildered by all the events, a law-abiding father who does not understand why his children drifted into lawlessness. Gangsterläufer avoids any easy answers, and in fact doesn't really solve or settle the question on what will happen to Yehya from now on; there is the feeling that Mr. Stahl's somewhat unfocused handling, his sense of not quite knowing where the project will take him, wastes part of what is so good about his long-term all-access footage. But at the same time, thouse doubts are also part of the charm of this piece, explaining its spontaneity and warmth as it ends up looking over a period of time into the El Achmed family dynamics. That more than makes up for some ill-advised choices, such as the widescreened, colourful interludes of youths running parkour in Neukölln, whose adrenaline may unwittingly glamourise the criminal lifestyle. Regardless, Gangsterläufer is a promising debut that asks some important questions.

Directed and written by Christian Stahl; produced by Andrea Ufer; music by Tilmann Dehnhard; camera (colour), Ralf Ilgenfritz; sound, Matthias Kreitschmann; film editors, Johannes Fritsche, Gines Olivares.
     A Hanfgarn & Ufer Filmproduktion production, in co-production with RBB and ZDF/Das kleine Fernsehspiel, in collaboration with ARTE, with funding from Filmförderungsanstalt.
     Screened: DocLisboa 2001 advance screener, Lisbon, October 19th 2011. 


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