Visitors (Die Besucher) – Film review


Visitors (Die Besucher) directed by Constanze Knoche, was screened in Sydney recently as part of the annual Audi Festival of German Films.’s Chloe Mayne gives it the once-over:

Visitors is the kind of film that grits your teeth, working nasty tendrils of discomfort right down into your bowels. It is an awkward affair. None of the main characters are particularly likeable after spending more than a few minutes with them. The only possible exception is poor Papa, our main character who, on the day with which the film begins, wakes up with new vigour and exercises his rusty impulse; slipping out quietly while his wife sleeps, he catches the train to Berlin to pay his adult offspring a visit.

Unfortunately, his surprise stop-in isn’t received with the warmth that he had expected. The first child, an eerily blonde university student, is preoccupied sleeping with her middle-aged professor when he knocks at her door. The second, his son, skirts awkwardly around him, only smiling when offered a small bundle of banknotes (in that depressing exchange that people sometimes employ as a means of offering affection). In fact, the relationship of all three children to their father is one of financial expectation and dependence, the witnessing of which makes one feel downright squirmy.

Papa’s life is a sad tangle. His children only tolerate him for his wallet. His wife of thirty years is having an affair with the next door neighbour. To top it off nicely, he’s just lost his job – and he’s got three snobby adult-adolescents to answer to as a result. The most warming moment of the film is when, not long after suffering a heart attack, Papa drags his wife to the nearest bar and drinks himself beneath the table, gets into a fight, then spends the night on a park bench – warming, why? Because there’s a flash of instinct, of not-caring, of desire to let go, of the conscious reach for happiness that is lacking in the other characters.

As much as it twists you up into an uncomfortable knot, it’s not to say that Visitors isn’t a good film. It’s cleverly crafted, well-paced and lays bare the complexities of family life in an honest albeit teeth-clenching manner – and while this family is a mess, we’re left with a faint whiff of reconciliation amongst the rubble. Its ability to make you writhe uncomfortably points to its potency. It leaves one’s own life feeling precious and open, a decanter still to be filled, tippled with the awareness of what we really want from our human connections through encountering what we don’t.

Chloe Mayne


Visitors review by Chloe Mayne.