A red car turns off the main road and down a dirt path in the German countryside, following an 11-year-old girl on a bicycle into a wheat field in the middle of the day. The bike stops, then the car stops, then the driver gets out of the car and rapes and murders the girl. The crime remains unsolved until a near-identical event occurs in the exact same spot on precisely the same day, 23 years later, and the case becomes a subject of renewed focus and pain for policemen, parents, murderers, and accomplices. A diorama miniature of the original crime scene, one of the most vivid visuals of the film, is retrieved from police storage: The murderer's car beside the fallen bicycle, meticulously crafted icons of a killing, are once again under the scrutiny of detectives. Later on, while examining the room of one of the victims, a police investigator picks up a Rubik's Cube. A puzzle composed of distinct, brightly colored pieces that slide past each other and lock into place: bicycle, car, wheat field, man, girl. There's something very clean and crisp about the visual language of this film, and it operates in glowing primary colors, not what one expects from a crime drama about pedophilic murderers, but a defining quality of the film.
In this feature debut, director Baran bo Odar withholds very little information about the crimes from the audience, and consequently the tension that builds has more to do with this distinct atmosphere than with the revelation of individual plot details. It extrapolates the puzzle outward from the crime and into the world as a whole, along a matrix of intersecting lines: cars fitting into garages, houses fitting perfectly next to each other, concentric circles on an umbrella. Everything starts to feel, eerily, like a component of the same architecture, equally complicit in the crime. Performances from the actors, in contrast, have an appropriate air of detachment that allows them to sink into their environment. You might forget the killer's face, but you won't forget that red car.