Nobdadi Heinz Trixner Borhanulddin Hassan Zadeh review

Year: 2019
Director(s): Karl Markovics
Writer(s): Karl Markovics
Region of Origin: Austria
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Rating: n/a
Color, 89 mins

Synopsis: A grumpy old man enlists the help of an Afghani migrant to bury his dead dog. (Source)

Any story that begins with a dead dog is bound to hit a certain way. Still, Karl Markovics’ Nobadi transcends expectation or presumption. It’s a brutal thriller that doesn’t sit right for good reason. There is a design to it however, and when finally realize what’s happening, it hits like a spade to the face. Saying too much wouldn’t allow the film to do its work, but Markovics makes the most of a minimal premise. He gradually tightens the tension between his two characters even as they unwittingly find common ground. The results are absolutely not easy to stomach, but provoke timely conversations on immigration, broken social systems and human decency.

After his dog dies, an Austrian senior citizen named Robert (Heinz Trixner) unceremoniously wraps him in a blanket and attempts a backyard burial. His shovel immediately cracks under the pressure of roots beneath the soil, however, sending him to the local hardware store. There, he’s seen by an out-of-luck Afghan refugee named Adib (Borhanulddin Hassan Zadeh). Unable to find work, Adib breaks from a band of day laborers and follows Robert home, selling himself as a hired hand. Robert agrees to pay Adib a measly 4 Euro to dig his dog’s resting place, but things escalate. Over the course of a tough day, both men confront their horrifying pasts in order to ensure a future. 

On the outset, Markovics’ film seems pretty simple, and that’s exactly why it hits so hard. Slowly but surely, Markovics stretches a tenuous bond to unbearable levels, creating a portrait of lives lost in the shuffle. The story somehow manages to take bigger ideas about immigration and social strata, distilling them to two broken men from opposite sides of life. As things spiral into a nightmarish struggle for survival, Markovics finds empathy and grace, albeit deeply embedded into some truly nauseating moments of violence and gore. Without giving away too much, Markovics doesn’t pull any punches nor tie things up with a neat bow. This is a deliberately messy experience that speaks volumes from little and digs deeper into our consciousness the more we think about it. 

The film’s crux and ideas converge thanks to the performances of Heinz Trixner and Borhanulddin Hassan Zadeh. As the story’s entry point, Trixner guides us into the conflict. We view his prejudices towards Adib (and general) mistrust post heartbreak in ways that are inescapably raw. There’s a pain behind his eyes and actions that set the pace for everything that happens. On the flip side, Zadeh is every bit as relatable but in different ways. Zadeh brings to light an earnesty and desperation. His performance is urgent and clear, presenting an everyman with a lot to lose within a world that refuses to see him as equal despite his best efforts. To see these two men verbally, physically and psychologically spar over the film’s intimate plot is wholly gripping. Just as they’re both repelled by each other, there are invisible bonds that these performances shake loose. 

Nobadi starts strong, takes its time, and comes in for the kill when we’re at our most vulnerable. It’s absolutely heartbreaking at its core, but with a message and conversation that must be heard now more than ever. As the story hurtles toward and unexpected but inevitable end, it unsettles and with purpose and necessity.