Is a former East German informer really the Devil? He is rather Mephistophelean. Yet, in their school days, Paul sort of got the better of Georg. Paul’s karmic bill comes due years later, with substantial compounded interest, in Denis Dercourt’s “A Pact.”
The earnest young Paul was so smitten with Anna that he forged a supposed love note from her to him, in hopes of spurring the arrogant Georg to dump her. Surprisingly, it works. However, before stealing some other schmuck’s girl, Georg extracts a promise from Paul that will loom large. At some unknown point in the future, Paul must return his presumptive new girlfriend, should Georg duly request her.
One Unification later, Paul is reasonably happily married to Anna and the proud father of two classically German-looking teenagers. Much to his surprise, the new boss of Paul’s investment banking firm turns out to be the very same Georg.
Initially, things are rather awkward between the two ex-friends. Of course, Georg is not exactly a touchy-feely sort of fellow. He is, after all, the son of an East German cop, who knew how to drop a dime to further his interests.
The doctored blackmail pictures Georg received of Paul in an apparently compromising position with his assistant do not help matters. Even worse, the international market turns against copper commodities, after Paul took a bullish position. At least he can still count on the firm’s security chief, Daniel, as a friend and ally.
Neither Paul nor the audience seriously considers his pal’s suggestion that Georg just might be Satan or some sort of djinn, but Paul’s paranoia will entertain just about any other possibility. Frankly, he is such a hapless victim that many viewers will probably start rooting against him. Still, it is hard to root for Georg, but Dercourt obliges with a third-act, forehead-slapping game-changer.
“A Pact” is a tonal traffic jam that leaves dozens of question hanging unresolved, but it is never dull. It starts out as an East German “Jules & Jim,” detours through Jeffrey Archer territory, and evolves into a payback thriller. Viewers who are easily annoyed by cinematic head-fakes will probably find more than they can take here. Still, it goes about its murky business with German professionalism. At times, Dercourt (the French expat) takes things over the top, but that is not such a bad thing.
As Georg, Sylvester Groth is memorably severe and calculating, setting the atmosphere of intrigue quite nicely. Poor Mark Waschke’s Paul is required to be a bit of a doormat, but Sophie Rois brings all kinds of barely submerged crazy as Georg’s girlfriend, Yvonne. Likewise, Marie Bäumer as Anna is rather credibly ticked off with the disappointing men in her life, while Johannes Zeiler steals scenes in bulk as the resourceful womanizer, Daniel.
As in a great Nathaniel Hawthorne novel, the GDR past continues to exert a malevolent influence on lives in the present. Frankly, this is not a film that a former East German apparatchik with a guilty conscience could enjoy. It clearly implies there are many who still remember the communist era and are not willing to forgive.
Recommended for those who enjoy psychological thrillers with the occasional melodramatic indulgence, “A Pact” screens on June 13, 15, and 17 as part of this year’s KINO! Festival of German Films in New York at the Quad Cinema.
Joe Bendel writes about independent film and lives in New York. To read his most recent articles, please visit www.jbspins.blogspot.com
Director: Denis Dercourt
Starring: Mark Waschke, Marie Bäumer, Sylvester Groth
Run Time: 1 hour, 28 minutes
Release Date: June 13
3.5 stars out of 5