The Kindness of Strangers: A dreamy look at what humanity could be
Lone Scherfig returns to Berlinale this year opening the 69th festival with her star-studded film The Kindness of Strangers. Scherfig’s well-intentioned drama circles a group of people whose lives become entangled through little moments of kindness and generosity. Clara (Zoe Kazan) catalyses the union of these compassionate souls as she escapes from her abusive husband in the middle of the night to New York City with her two sons. Desperate, she is instantly swallowed by the city, yet through a series of small acts from kind strangers she manages to stay afloat.
Scherfig’s total care for characterisation is evident; there is never a moment where you don’t believe that these people lack genuine texture. With a cast such as this, it’s not surprising that the performances rise to the occasion. Bill Nighy in particular – as pseudo-Soviet Timofey – gives the script much needed moments of levity and with flair dons a fake Russian accent. Too, Andrea Riseborough as Alice, the overstretched nurse who, in helping everyone around her, has no time for herself, becomes a shining emblem of what humanity could be. However, the nature of a large ensemble is that it’s tricky to tease out their backstories without lengthy breaks in the plot. There are more than a few expositional monologues blurted out that grow tiresome; Scherfig has created a clear hierarchy in which character reigns and other elements fall by the wayside.
For one, the depiction of New York City feels far from authentic. Instead Clara, dragging her two young sons in tow, skip from one back alley to the next as she shoplifts with ease from flashy department stores. There is no true grounding in the city and its lack of credibility underlines the question as to why Scherfig decided to set The Kindness of Strangers here. She builds a patchwork of NYC that is waiting to be sewn together.
In the spirit of the film, the stunning performances and generosity of the characters ask the audience to forgive the clunkier moments of plot and setting. The big apple is presented like a concocted fantasy that doesn’t quite translate to reality. Similarly, for a character study, there are mighty jumps in the story for the sake of heightened drama which feel like foils dramatic revelation. Nonetheless, it’s a sweet picture that highlights the power of the individual to make life a little less hard. Sometimes that’s exactly what you need.
The Kindness of Strangers does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.
Watch two clips from The Kindness of Strangers here: