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Alois Nebel | Review

Closely Watched Train Watcher

With a little luck and some good marketing, the feature debut of Czech filmmaker Tomas Lunak, Alois Neble, is bound to get tongues wagging for its awesome visuals, consisting of black and white rotoscope animation. It’s sure to draw comparisons to Ari Folman’s 2008 Waltz With Bashir for its style, but in fact it feels more like a nightmarish noir, one from which the present is most certainly imprisoned and informed by the past, and one most certainly evoking classic Czech films, a la Jiri Menzel.

Alois Neble is working as a train dispatcher on the Czech border in the late summer of 1989. A solitary man that prefers to keep to himself and give milk to his cat, Nebel often hallucinates about events that took place from his childhood in 1945, when revenge was exacted upon the German populous in his area. Unable to dispel these hallucinations, he winds up in a sanatorium alongside a character known as The Mute, a man forced to undergo extreme electroshock treatment by the authorities to force him to speak. The Mute happens to be a man on a mission to revenge a deed that involved the same events Nebel has been hallucinating about. Nebel is eventually released, albeit to a strange world where the Berlin wall has been torn down and his job as a train dispatcher is no longer available. As he forges a connection with a melancholy widow named Kveta, a toilet custodian he meets at the Prague railway headquarters, the ghosts from the past catch up with present.

There’s a lot going on beneath the surface of Alois Nebel. For starters, even the name of the title character carries significant meaning. In German, Nebel means fog. When spelled backwards, the word Leben means life. Alois Nebel is a man hidden in his own fog. While the look of the film is visually stunning, it is this foggy existence that sometimes makes him a difficult character to follow. However, the film’s gorgeous attention to detail makes this definitely a title to seek out. Stark, chilling and dank, Lunak’s debut recalls an inescapable nightmare and is certainly entrancing.

Reviewed on September 09 at the 2011 Toronto Int. Film Festival – DISCOVERY Programme.

80 Min.

Rating 3.5 stars

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Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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