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By Alan Behr

NEW YORK, 16 MARCH 2009 - To watch Auf der Strecke (On the Line) is to find a sophisticated feature film in miniature. In a mere half hour, the German-Swiss production presents characters and situations so authentically realized, you have to check the program notes to confirm that you are not watching a feature film by a seasoned production team but short by a student director, Reto Caffi. You would not be surprised to see that it was nominated for an Academy Award the best short film, live action.

Roeland Wiesnekker in Auf der Strecke (On the Line)
Photo courtesy of Blush Films

The setting is a Swiss city in which Rolf (Roeland Wiesnekker), a security officer at a department store, has fallen for Sarah (Catherine Janke) a clerk in the book department. Rolf conducts his suit by observing Sarah through his overhead security camera, by buying a book from her, and by a smile and a wave on the train they share for the daily commute. On a fateful night on that train, Rolf sees Sarah with another man and, jealous of the attention she gives him, fails to come to his aid when three thugs attack him. When Rolf learns of the full consequences of his inaction, guilt spreads like oil upon a sheet of clean glass. It is only then that he can approach the woman he admires, and their interaction, so long anticipated, concludes the film.

Director Reto Caffi's Auf der Strecke (On the Line)
Photo courtesy of Blush Films

Shot in murky, confined spaces, the film captures the smallness of a typical Swiss metropolis but casts away all its inherent charm, giving a dark and cramped feeling that concisely frames Rolf's solitude and remorse. The dialogue is minimal, the action both consequential and believable. It all operates to subtle effect, but as is often the case, subtlety is the first thing lost in translation (by subtitles). Rolf speaks with his Swiss colleagues in Swiss German, which Germans and Austrians often strain to understand; but he communicates to Sarah in proper German (Hochdeutsch ), emphasizing both the greater formality of their acquaintance. Astute English-language viewers will, however, catch one clever reference to recent German cinema: when Rolf dares to buy that book from Sarah, she asks whether it should be wrapped. He replies, "No, it's for me," thereby referencing the poignant summation line of the ex-Stasi agent in Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) , which won the Oscar for best foreign-language film in 2007.

Alan Behr practices intellectual-property law at the New York office of Alston & Bird LLP. He last wrote on In His Own Image: Shepard Fairey Fights to Redefine Copyright Law for

Title image Roeland Wiesnekker and Catherine Janke in Auf der Strecke (On the Line).
Photo courtesy of Blush Films

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