Rudolf Pawlik (Rudolf Wessely) lives a rather quiet life. He works in the small bookstore he owns and most of his social contact is with his neighbor – even older than he and not in a good shape – whom he takes care of. When his neighbor dies and her son Herbert (Wolfgang Böck) with his girlfriend Michaela (Dana Vávrová) and her daughter Agnes (Hana Cainer) move into the apartment. Pawlik takes an immediate dislike to Herbert, but Agnes and Michaela both steal his heart, and he will try his best to give them a better life.
Der Nachbar is a supercreepy film with a supercreepy protagonist in Pawlik – and nobody involved seems to realize the creepiness of it all. I watched the film with growing horror at pretty much everything.
During the film it turns out that Michaela – who used to work as a waitress before meeting Herbert – is a sex worker, basically forced/pimped/convinced/pressured by Herbert who promises that they just need to get together enough money so that they can open a café together. Herbert is generally an asshole and an abuser and obviously set up as the worst of masculinity to show just how much of a good guy Pawlik actually is. Because he falls in love with Michaela (who is about 30 years his junior) and wants to offer her a good life by his side. He has some money, you see. And his wife is dead, and he is very lonely.
And I could live with that but the film doesn’t leave it at that. Pawlik stalks Michaela and thus finds out that she does sex work. And despite frequenting sex workers himself, he is incredibly disappointed in her. (Keep in mind that their relationship with each other is that they are neighbors and he watches her daughter every once in a while.) So he offers her marriage as a way out of her predicament (of course, he doesn’t just offer her money because he doesn’t want her free, he wants her chained to him instead of Herbert).
Michaela is taken aback by that offer, she refuses and Pawlik assaults her (but he didn’t mean to! He just got so angry and disappointed!), but then apologizes and reiterates his marriage proposal. Michaela still shows no interest whatsoever, but every boundary she puts down is handwaved away. No need to take that seriously at all. She’s only trapped in a bad situation after all and if she wasn’t so much under Herbert’s thumb, she’s surely see the beauty of Pawlik and the easy life as his wife. So of course, Pawlik kills Herbert and with Herbert gone, Michaela is free and clear to start her life with him. (What do you mean, how about her own opinions, decisions or feelings? HA!) Cue the scene where Michaela, Agnes and Pawlik fall into each others arm, the end.
This entire plot and with it the film is a misogynistic mess, framing women (especially marginalized women like Michaela who is disadvantaged by her profession, her immigration status and her economic class, a power differential between her and Pawlik that is never discussed either) as victims without their own will and prizes for the “good guys” once they have defeated the “bad guys”. I hated pretty much every single second of it.
Summarizing: Ugh ugh ugh.