Things are never the same after Elly Brandl, a wealthy gallery owner in Vienna, decides to help out a young victim of human trafficking get back on his feet.
During one of her nocturnal adventures out on the town Elly Brandl, a wealthy Viennese gallery owner, hits Alec Ionescu, a 24-year-old Romanian victim of human trafficking. Alec refuses to call for help and insists on just walking away from the scene. Afraid of the authorities, but unable to go on, Alec has little choice but to accept Elly’s offer to take him home to recuperate. In the days that follow we witness Alec trying to put his shattered mind back together while Elly observes him like an exotic species at the zoo. But soon the tables are turned.
Sometimes Alec is functional and articulate, sometimes he is nearly catatonic. He prefers to sleep under the dining room table where he feels safe. He drinks against insomnia and suffers from mild hallucinations and recurring states of anxiety. Although he feels relatively safe in Elly’s modernistic apartment, he is also a prisoner of his past. Elly’s ex-husband Mark, a New York based video artist, tries to convince Elly that her new friend needs professional help, not just a bed and a roof. However Mark is more motivated by the prospect of getting Elly back into his life than any real empathy with Alec.
Alec becomes Elly’s new muse. She delights in spying on him, taking his measurements, dressing him and conversing with him. Elly’s envious sister Helene sees the attractive Alec as another one of Elly’s sexual conquests. Helene is not afraid to express her contempt for what she sees as a useless drifter, a member of a class of people who can be exploited and then disposed of. When Mark realizes that Elly and Alec have become more than friends he jettisons his humanitarian pretenses and resorts to brazen appeals to love, status, and finally brute force.
We experience Alec and Elly’s relationship as shifting tableaus of perspective. Elly’s apartment, an impressive collection of abstract angles and improbable spaces, is both a house of mirrors reflecting various dualities and an opaque barrier. What cannot be said, a shared desire to experience love in a new way, to be free of any societal qualifications, may only be depicted in passing moments. Elly constructs images of Alec: the trauma victim, the stranger, the honest, tough worker, a gifted youth, an object of desire, but Alec attempts to force her to see him as he is. Can Elly, who has carefully designed a life around comforting abstractions, see him at all? Or must she experience Alec as a distorted mirror of her own longing?
Gatekeeper is a subtle examination of the hidden fault lines created by migration, identity politics and the consequences of transgression.