The story of this German-Peruvian co-production is set chiefly in Germany; and the dialogue is, therefore, mostly German, even though Spanish is frequently spoken. In these respects, Naomis Reise is similar to Guten Tag, Ramón – but apart from that the two films could not be more different.
Marielle was born into a poor Peruvian family and dreamt of a better life. Now she is dead, and her significantly older husband Bernd is sitting in a Berlin prison, waiting to be tried for her murder.
Marielle’s Berlin-based friends scrape some money together for airline tickets, and her mother (Liliana Trujillo) wants to travel from Peru to Berlin in order to attend the trial. Naomi, Marielle’s younger sister (played by Scarlett Jaimes), has no desire to travel to the city where her sister was killed, but she also knows that she cannot abandon her mother at this time.
The two of them attend the court case as “Nebenkläger”. Which means they are represented in the trial through their own lawyer, who – in addition to the district attorney – will try to shed some light on the crime and ensure an appropriate punishment for the accused.
But the trial does not bring closure or peace-of-mind. Naomi and her mother have to sit through the defense attorney’s attempts to denigrate Marielle’s reputation, and it is extremely difficult for them to reconcile their emotions with the German justice system’s detached attitude and reliance on facts and procedure.
This is a culture clash of sorts, but the culture gap never moves outside of the courthouse as we never see Naomi or her mother meet native German people or experience every-day German life. It is a clash between a murder victim’s relatives and the steady, dispassionate wheels of justice – and as such, the victim could have been anybody. In terms of this clash, it was not essential to make the victim a foreigner from the other side of the world, it could have just as well been a German woman. The foreigner angle is used in the story for some tropes about casual racism; but I believe the real benefit of having two Peruvian relatives sitting alone in a court room in Germany is that it works really well as a symbol for the isolation the relatives of victims can feel in these cases. That they are foreigners in a strange country simply helps to highlight those isolation issues.
Technically, this film is a courtroom-drama, but there is very little drama in it. The drama is silent, and played out in the faces of Naomi and her mother. The court proceedings are very German, very dispassionate, and very dull. This is not a Hollywood-style trial. Not even the guilt of the accused is in question at any point – the only question is if he will be convicted for murder or for manslaughter. And this dispassionate and dull approach is absolutely deliberate: this is an accurate portrayal of a German court case. And it feels a lot like a docu-drama. In fact, many of the actors who play the judges and attorneys are in fact, precisely that. They are not actors, but average German lawyers. And it has the desired effect. No actors could have put such a convincingly pedestrian display on screen as this. It is quite remarkable, if not exactly entertaining. I have no information about the other “professional” roles in this film, but with some of them you could easily imagine that they are not filled by actors either. For example, the two emergency paramedics who appear briefly might very well be actual paramedics.
I am not sure who this film is for. As far as German audiences are concerned, social workers and law students might find some interesting aspects here, but I fear that there is just too little time devoted to Naomi’s emotional journey. And apart from that, the script contains absolutely nothing besides the court case, which – as I have pointed out – is much more a docu-drama than a real film.
So, while this is a novel approach, and while there are some interesting aspects, I am afraid this film did not really work for me. Still, the acting (specifically the non-verbal acting) of Trujillo and Jaimes is good, and Jaimes especially is able to transport a certain silent dignity. I will also throw in some extra points for the interesting concept (staging a realistic trial without artistic flourishes, using real-life lawyers). So I guess I will end up at roughly 5.5 to 6.0 out of 10.