With news of GCHQ breaching the privacy of more than a million Yahoo Messenger users breaking last month, EWE comes with an extra sting in its tail. Even Britain’s premiere surveillance agency would flinch at the film’s opening declaration: “Your Brother is watching you. But you are watching, too.” Not since Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity” has an opening placard been so foreboding. In an arresting twist to the usual paranoia-soaked dystopian fantasy, EWE’s plot implicates not only prying government bodies but also its civilians. An early sequence reveals the EWE-system’s network as the camera dives through half a dozen television sets, each leading to the next observing – and observed – Brother.
It’s a divisive social practice that works, as our entry-point, Nicolai, is keen to inform us. His voiceover guides us through the system’s past and present; crimes rates are at an all-time low, while terrorist acts have been abolished completely. A devout follower of the structure, Nicolai is only too happy to reach his six-hour quota each day, resuming his official career as a journalist in between shifts. His curiosity nonetheless finds him meeting with his own Brother, a EWE employee with some shocking news about the system. Nicolai accompanies him to the company’s compound, a plot turn that yields a tense search of the whistleblower’s car, and a rewarding discovery.
Florian Bayer’s screenplay is covered through a succession of still images, with conversations and Nicolai’s interior monologues dubbed on top. Far from a gimmick, this framing device not only suggests our own point of view to be less sophisticated than that of the Brothers’, it also allows the viewer to savour the film’s gloriously retro set design and sumptuous lighting. If the subtitling is occasionally off-target, then Johannes Franke’s elegant and compelling direction creates a world that feels authentic, even come the film’s refreshingly contained denouement. EWE subverts expectations in more ways than one, with its last-minute musings on power and religion feel far from arbitrary. “It needs your full attention,” insists a radio host beckoning all Brothers to their posts; the same may very well be said for this measured, thought-provoking study on the implications of voyeurism.