A straightforward romantic drama that gradually reveals itself to be about something else entirely, Copilot is a modest success for about half of its runtime. Utilizing a mostly handheld camera and an uninflected approach to realism, Anne Zohra Berrached’s film follows the fits and starts of a young couple, Asli (Canan Kir) and Saeed (Roger Azar). She’s studying to be a doctor, he a dentist, and they bond over their mutual overbearing families and the weight of expectations thrust upon them. It’s fairly standard stuff — familiar but enlivened by fine performances, a keen sense of place, and a novel milieu. They’re both foreigners (she Turkish, him Lebanese) living in Germany, and the mix of languages — German, English, Turkish, Arabic — suggests the difficulty of communication in a rapidly globalized world. Copilot is broken into five chapters, one for each year of their relationship: year one is the “meet cute,” year two finds them temporarily broken up, and so on. Things start to go south in year three and here the film deviates from charting a long-term relationship to something approaching a thriller. Saeed becomes more aggressive and is spending more time at a local mosque, while refusing to introduce Asli to his new friends, taking furtive meetings in the street, and sneaking out at night to make secret phone calls. Concerned, Asli looks at his text messages while he sleeps, and something there shocks her. But Berrached plays coy and chooses not to spell out exactly what it is that Asli reads. Instead, Saeed tells Asli that she is responsible for keeping his secrets, whatever they are, and proceeds to disappear for the better part of a year. It becomes clear that he’s been radicalized and has helped carry out some sort of terrorist act, and the last section of the film is a steady narrative march towards the 9/11 attacks.
It’s a bold narrative zig zag, but Berrached fumbles it. Nearly two decades since 9/11, Copilot is clearly not a desperate bid for topicality, but it doesn’t do anything to add to our understanding of how jihadists are radicalized, nor does it succeed as a nuts and bolts procedural. It wants to both humanize these people and dramatize an epochal historical event, but winds up becoming an empty rhetorical gesture instead of a film. It’s a story that could have been better served by being a novel, where we might be privy to Asli’s inner thoughts. Instead, she comes across as passive and aloof, with no real reason to harbor a violent spouse other than the occasional declaration of love. Berrached seems to want to explore how complicit Asli is, or is not, in her seemingly willful refusal to deal with Saeed’s radicalism, but the film’s episodic nature and elision of granular detail ultimately lead to a vague, unedifying dead end.
Published as part of Berlin Film Festival 2021 — Dispatch 2.