Director – Damir Lukacevic, Screenplay – Gabi Baluert & Damir Lukacevic, Based on the Short Story by Elia Barcelo, Producer – Marcos Kantis, Photography – Francisco Dominguez, Music – Enis Rotthoff, Visual Effects/Special Effects – Michael Koschorreck’s Fantasty-Art Effects, Production Design – Tom Hornig. Production Company – Schiwago Film/ZDF – Das Kleine Fernsehspiel.
B.J. Britt (Apolain/Hermann Goldbeck), Regine Nehy (Sarah/Anna Goldbeck), Hans-Michael Rehberg (Hermann Goldbeck), Ingrid Andree (Anna Goldbeck), Mehmut Kurtulus (Laurin), Ulrich Voss (Otto), Jeanette Hain (Dr Menzel), Stefan Lisewski (Dr Ferdinand Menzel)
78 year-old Hermann Goldbeck and his wife Anna visit the Menzana Corporation, which offers aging people the opportunity to have their minds transferred into the bodies of younger healthier people. The bodies have been taken from the poor in Africa where people willingly volunteer in the knowledge that their families will receive money. Hermann and Anna are uncomfortable at the idea of inhabiting Black bodies but after she falls ill, Hermann decides to go ahead with the operation. They wake up in and adjust to their new bodies. The original owners of the bodies, the Malinese man Apolain and the Ethiopian woman Sarah, are allowed four hours each evening to have the use of their own bodies. Apolain and Sarah soon develop a relationship, although this makes Hermann angry. Sarah then becomes pregnant, although they cannot be sure who was in control of their bodies when this happened. Debate rages as to whose the child is or should be. Meanwhile, Apolian resents their exploitation by the wealthy and plots ways for him and Sarah to be free, despite the perpetual security cameras monitoring them..
Transfer is the third film from Damir Lukacevic, a Croat-born writer-director who now lives in Germany. He previously appeared with the obscure God’s Visit (1998) and Heimekhr (2004), both of which circle around Croat subject matter.
Transfer follows on from a number of other films in recent years that tackle the frontiers of genetic medicine, transplant possibilities and aging and rejuvenation treatments, most notably the likes of Gattaca (1997), Code 46 (2003), The Island (2005), Never Let Me Go (2010), In Time (2011) and Target (2011). In approach, Transfer probably comes the closest to the John Frankenheimer film Seconds (1966) about Rock Hudson being granted a new life via a secret society that surgically alters him to become a young man again. We have seen other films such as Freejack (1992) and Chrysalis (2007) set in futures where people can transplant their minds into other bodies. None of these however has done anything to explore how such a society might work with the exception of the interesting low-budget Xchange (2000) set in a future where such bodyswaps are commonplace.
As Transfer unfolded, I was surprised about what a good film it was. It does what any good science-fiction film should – it takes a premise that changes one thing about the world and then carefully explores the implications of the idea. The premise plays out with a wonderfully logical cool that keeps throwing problems into the scenario – the discovery that Regine Nehy is pregnant, which immediately falls into both couples arguing about which one of them was responsible, followed by heated argument on whether the child is going to be an African baby or an upper-class European baby with Black skin. Then comes the growing freedom and empowerment of the host bodies and their complicity to make an escape by posing as the German couple. The twists, turns and slow unfoldings that come are beautifully written.
One of the most charged aspects is the question of race. It is daring choice upon Damir Lukacevic’s part to set the film in Germany with its history of racial intolerance. As we see the German couple in the Menzana offices in the opening scene, the clear sense of distaste on Hans-Michael Rehberg’s face as he politely enquires if there are any other bodies says everything. Later there comes an angry expulsion of disgust on his waking up to find the two bodies naked in the same bed: “While we’re deep in sleep, these two Negroes screw each other.” However, rather than caricature this and turn the film into a debate about racial intolerance, Damir Lukacevic is far more subtle – we see the two women coming to sympathise and work with one another and eventually Hans-Michael Rehberg enquiring how to make the lot of the families back in Africa better off. Damir Lukacevic digs at issues such as exploitation of the Third World by a wealthy and corporate First World in ways that are perhaps obvious at times but makes his points with a potency, none the more so than when the woman in the office (Jeanette Hain) indignantly insists “We’re not slave traders.”
The two actors playing the lead hosts, B.J. Britt and Regine Nehy, are both American actors who were cast when Damir Lukacevic could not find any Black actors to fill the roles in Germany. Both give fine performances delineating the dual roles. Lukacevic shoots both of them in a cool measured tone that highlights their features with flawless perfection.