Berlinale 2018: Bekmambetov's 'Profile' is a Cautionary Internet Tale
There's another new film this year telling a thrilling story told entirely through computer screens. This one is titled Profile, and it's directed by Russian filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch, Wanted, Ben-Hur), who also produced the other computer screen film Search (which first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and I wrote a glowing review of here). Profile tells a completely different story than Search - it's about a journalist from London who tries to connect with an ISIS recruiter online for a story about how ISIS recruiters use the internet to lure women. Surprise, surprise, she ends up getting in way too deep and essentially falls for the same tricks and traps that the other women did. It's a captivating thriller about technology, for sure, but it's still a bit gimmicky and a bit manipulative, and not as good as it really could be.
Bekmambetov's Profile is a very effective film utilizing the engaging concept of telling enthralling cinematic stories entirely through computer screens. Most of this film and the footage we get to see includes Skype phone calls and FaceTime calls, both with her editor and boyfriend, as well as with the ISIS recruiter she meets through Facebook. Irish actress Valene Kane stars as Amy, a journalist who creates a fake Facebook profile which instantly gets identified by a man from Syria who starts talking with her in an attempt to befriend her. Soon she starts chatting with him more and more, and learns about his life over there in the Middle East, and why he's not the evil person she thought he would be. She starts falling for him, and begins to blur work and life and emotions, while her journalistic ethics and relationship fall apart in the meantime.
Despite it being very good, Timur is no Aneesh Chaganty. Chaganty's Search is the best version of this kind of film yet, as perfect as this storytelling can be. This film takes a few shortcuts that are not authentic and a bit off-putting. The perfect song for the moment always happens to start playing as soon as she hangs up a call or clicks away from another window on her screen. This could only work in real life if she programmed some macro script to start playing music (which I highly doubt). Even then it's still too gimmicky, especially because the song is usually an on-the-nose representation of the feelings she's experiencing. Of course, we know where all this is leading, it's hinted at right from the start. And it gets intense at times, mostly because the emotions are so overwhelming and she plays them so well. It's gripping and unsettling to watch unfold.
At its core, Profile is about manipulation and coercion. It's worth a watch just to talk about it, and figure out what exactly it's making you think about and why. There's a few things that hit me hard watching this, and I've been mulling over these ideas ever since. This film shows how good some men are at manipulation and attraction, in a frightening way, using the right stories and photos. It also shows the other side: how easy someone can be tricked into falling in love and feeling authentically attracted, so much so that they make irrational choices. It makes us consider both sides. I felt just as uncomfortable watching the ISIS recruiter as I did watching her fall for him and his tricks. In that sense, the film is about more than technology. But it's also about how technology allows anyone to use it for their own gain, perhaps illicitly and dishonestly, and that's scary. We can be deceptive yet believable all thanks to technology like the internet. So watch out.
Alex's Berlinale 2018 Rating: 7.5 out of 10
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