Wednesday, March 25, 2020

AN EASY GIRL: Rebecca Zlotowski Interview

Zlotowski
Before everything went to hell with the COVID-19, I was prepping for attending Film at Lincoln Center's annual Rendezvous with French Cinema Festival as I've been covering it for Screen Anarchy for the last several years. I was even lucky enough to have a chat with lovely director Rebecca Zlotowski (Belle Epine, Grand Central) about her seductive new film An Easy Girl, starring a French tabloid sensation, Zahia Dehar. Dehar made headlines in 2009 in a sex scandal involving players in French National Footbal team. She was a minor at the time. She later used her notoriety to be an internet celebrity and entrepreneur.

A few days after our conversation, the citywide quarantine hit. With the movie slated to come out this Summer, tentatively, here I give you the interview with Zlotowski. Sharp witted and cautious, Zlotowski is a Scorcese-level fast talker. She is careful with what she says and fully aware of the limitations of giving fully formed, thoughtful answers in a 20 minute interview. But I thank her for her sincerity and professionalism all the same.

For those of us who doesn’t know who Zahia Dehar is, can you tell us tell us something about her?

I can’t. I mean, I can mention her backstory and it’s probably part of the reason I met her in France. But it is super interesting to me to see people not knowing the backstory.

Not knowing the backstory?

I mean, she’s been involved in…and that’s why I feel that, in a very modest way, because this film is a modest one about a very complex subject. But if you know her backstory, you can only see the top layers, the perception of her story being that she was involved in the very famous underage prostitution case ten years ago.

Right.

She’s been involved in this “moral affairs” and I think she still does work as a prostitute occasionally. But what she does in private is private. But yes, for French audiences, her backstory absolutely plays in to the film. Yet the fact is, she still inspired me to created a very poetic, literal character. It was part of the process that was interesting to me because it deconstructed certain archetypes and stereotypes that people are maybe not ready for it in France. But everyone is looking at this pretty, sexy French actress in a totally different way when I show the film here in New York.

You have a co-writer….

Teddy Lussi-Modeste. Yes he is a very strong collaborator and we have been working together a long time. A partner in crime. But for this one, I was writing in March, shot it in July and the film was in Cannes in next May. It was a very short process and very fast. Of course I had in mind the subject of the prostitution around the character in mind connected to her. But the thing is that the film was not about the prostitution at all but it was about transaction.

Yes.

That she can receive things in return for her sexuality. But it was done in a very sentimental and very light and sexy and funny way to support those two women, by having encounters and conversation like a normal civil life. Her sexuality is a tool for empowering and social climbing which is kind of difficult to admit, but interesting to write about, nonetheless.

When you were writing, the script, did you have Zahia as Sofia in mind?

Absolutely. Actually, she sent me a message in instagram. I was very confused that she even knew me. People are so narcissistic these days. (laughs) I just looked at her pictures and saw the way she talked and I never heard her voice before and I was surprised. The first thing that shocked me was the way she presented herself. She reminded me of a character from 1969. She was as naïve, as polite and elegant as people would have been in the 60s, using all the elegant words, not cursing or rude or self absorbed. She wasn’t being the character I wrote but she was already that character. There is a strong connection between this film and Eric Rohmer’s La Collectioneuse in the film's theme. That was the beginning idea of the film. I wrote it for her and with her.

You’ve worked with famous actresses before (Léa Seydoux, Natalie Portman, Lily-Rose Depp). How was it different working with two main non-actors – Zahia but also Mina Farid?

I was glad. Yes, to me it was very different not to work with people with strong solid acting background. I knew it was a responsibility to work with someone who is trying the first time. You have to give them advices. For instance, I had to tell them that the camera wasn’t on them, just for them to hold emotions for the next shot because they give you everything right away, so once or twice I had to tell them to look at the camera to remind them that this is a set and we are making a movie. For instance, I had to give them tips and advices that maybe a director says to an actress in the beginning of her career. So that was the only difference. The rest were the same.

Got you.

The same. Whenever you work with an actor or actress, working with them is a new language every time. I wish I have some magical method which I can use it on all actors and actresses but that’s not the case.

Mina Farid is great. How did you cast her?

It was in Cannes. So with my casting director, we set out to find a non-actor. It was tough because she also had to be young. I saw a lot of girls and some of them were very sexual. I wanted someone who was a little more innocent, a little shy about her sexuality because I wanted the film to be a coming of age tale, not a tale of sexuality. Maybe Jacques Doillon or other filmmakers I really love would have chosen someone else, chosen someone with more of a mystery to them, but I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to do a film about what’s happening when you are 15 years old and you have to choose a job in your life.

Right.

Do you think there is a generational difference in characters with all the technologies we have when you think about Prudence in Belle Epine (Zlotowski's first film), the film you made that takes place in the 80s, and Naima in An Easy Girl? You think it is more dangerous growing up with surrounded by all these technology - instagram, twitter, facebook and all that? Because when we were growing up, we didn’t have all that.

Danger? I think it’s a blessing for them. Of course you have terrible things like harassment and bullying and focusing on what people think of them. But what is changed is that there are so many possibilities for lonely people not to feel lonely anymore. I do not feel that as dangerous or threatening at all. When everything is bleak around you I think having all these technology is better.

The other side of the social media equation is this worshipping of rich and famous celebrity culture and being extremely materialistic. Do you think that has any impact on our youth?

Of course, but is it new? Is that really connected to social media? I mean I am a big fan of 60s Italian cinema where people are beautiful and wealthy and sexy and all that. Some of the actresses are saying, “Yes I am a little bit materialistic.” I do not have a problem with that. Everyone wants something different. Even if I am not materialistic, I am privileged enough to have something else that makes me happy. So if they want that, that’s their prerogative.

That’s how I felt at the end of the movie that Naima hasn’t changed much, that she is true to herself.

I didn’t want to punish her. I didn’t want the film to be moral about it. I didn’t want it to be judgmental. Of course she was disappointed at the end, but by the behavior in front of her. She wasn’t disappointed she believed in it and she took pleasure. The film is an ode to pleasure and freedom and adventure and fraternity between those girls.

One scene I loved was when Sophia was questioned by this old rich woman and it turns out she reads Maguerite Duras and she is well read and really cultured. Is that the case with Zahia Dehar in real life?

No. (laughs) But she is a cinephile and once or twice I was very surprised by very specific knowledge of films that she likes. I don't even know them. She is very into Chinese and Hong Kong movies. She watches a lot of movies and goes to movie theaters often. She has many surprising qualities.

At this year’s Ceasar Award, Adèle Haenel walked out of the ceremony along with Céline Schiamma when they announced best director award, which awarded Roman Polanski. Any thoughts?

It’s goig to be a very long conversation if we start that. I mean, I am very close to Céline, I am very much in support of their film, I am in support of the reaction she had, I don’t want to be judgmental and in my mind there is no pro- or anti-. But it happened and I am very glad that it’s generating a lot of discussions around it. The thing is that as an observer that the moment I am being very careful because I don’t want it to be written on your paper that I feel this way or that way, because it’s a very polarized moment. And when you can’t add the complexity to the subject, since we do not have ten minutes, my thoughts will be incomplete.

OK. I will leave it at that.

An Easy Girl played as part of this year's Rendez-vous with French Cinema and tentatively set to release this Summer.

Friday, March 13, 2020

BACURAU: Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles Interview

Filho Dornelles
Flipping the idea of first world hegemony on its head, a Brazilian Western sci-fi genre mashup Bacurau is a campy, violent, funny, angry, energetic and carthartic film that is extremely enjoyable for both genre fans and politically minded. It is also perhaps the best film to watch in the time of world-wide pandemic as we begin to turn our attention to the safety of us but our loved ones and the solidarity with our neighbhors and community. That we are all in this together.

Bacurau is playing in Film at Lincoln Center and IFC Center in New York. Opens today in Los Angeles and national roll out will follow. Please visit Kino Lorber website for details.

I described this film in my review as batshit crazy. It was the most fun I had in movies in years. I was lucky enough to meet the film's co-directors Kleber Mendonça Filho (Neighboring Sounds, Aquarius) and Juliano Dornelles when they were in town for the theatrical release of the film here in New York. Our long interview topics ranges from the fate of the Brazilian film industry, genre conventions, Parasite to James Bond.

Filho and Dornelles are an interesting pair. Filho, more reserved and articulate, Dornelles, younger, animated and full of laughs and energy often finished each other's sentenses. It was the one of the most stimulating interview I've ever conducted. So without further a do:

Let’s go back to 2016 for a moment. The reason I am bringing up 2016 is that that was the year I saw your film Neighboring Sounds. Aquarius was coming out a little later that year. Then I saw Gabriel Mascaro’s Neon Bull.

Kleber Mendonça Filho: You understand that Gabriel is also from where I came from.

Recife. Yes, I had a pleasure of talking to Gabriel when he was here presenting his film.

Divine Love (Mascaro's new film)?

No, for Neon Bull. So I got the basic idea of what was happening back then in Brazil. So you have this great wealth of these new Brazilian films coming out. The Brazilian film industry is booming, especially in formerly neglected regions, such as Pernambuco and other Northern regions. There are filmmakers such as yourself, Gabriel Mascaro, Adirley Queiros, making interesting stuff all over. But things have changed since then. And it was only four years ago. Now Lula (and his Workers’ Party) is not in charge anymore. We had that disastrous fire in the Amazon. And we have this raging racist Bolsonaro in charge…. I guess my question is has there been a big change in Brazilian film industry in those four years?

KMF: Yes.

Juliano Dornelles: Yes and we are about to see the consequences of those changes. For example, last year, we had the best year in Brazilian film history, maybe?

KMF: Yes,

JD: Probably the best three years of our film history, to say the least. But Bacurau has been the project that was in development in many years, even before all that. My wife is a costume designer. And she was invited to work in 5 feature films last year. Now three of them are canceled and two of them delayed. So she spent one whole year without working on a film. This is a sign that things are slowing down.

KMF: It is very interesting to understand that in 2016, there was a soft coup d'etat in Brazil. There was a powergrab. The power was taken away from the usual democratic means, using a fake excuse that doesn’t have the legs, by any measure, to stand on. The power was taken from the politicians who were more progressive side of politics, from the Workers’ Party. Basically because of the opposition was so angry and frustrated that they have been losing every democratic election. So when that happened, and I am talking specifically about the culture, the first thing they did, when they grabbed the power, was to, extinguish the Ministry of Culture. It was basically saying, ‘We hate you artists. Because "you are all drug addicts--"

JD: “Drug addicts, homosexuals--”

KMF: "...and pedophiles. You think you are smarter than us?” That was the first thing they did.

JD: They did it with GLEE.

KMF: yeah, they did it with pleasure. And then, after that, two month later, they decided to bring it back. And their new measures start to sabotage the artistic community. Which basically meant they effectively extinguished the national film agency, they were making it increasingly impossible for us to make films. I mean it’s always been difficult- even democratic times, just like any government agency, things are comically bureaucratic. And it is bureaucratic because in a society where corruption is endemic, you need a lot of papers to make sure everything is supposedly done right. And now today the agency still exists, but it’s…nothing really works. It’s very slow. then suddenly you are surprised that something did work, then there are 500 projects which are backlogged.

JD: Slow, disorganized and random. Sometimes something happens but it doesn’t mean nothing because many other projects are in the same situations…. so we are completely in the dark.

KMF: And of course there are recommendations that any new project will need to be ideologically aligned with the government. I mean, this is absolutely unconstitutional. We have a constitution which says this kind of things can’t be happening that it is illegal. So if you are some angelic filmmaker and I don’t know if there is one that exists, then you will have a much better chance to get something made.

JD: There was a situation when they took over the cinemateque (Cinemateca Brazilera) and of course they fired a lot of people who were conservation specialists, those technicians who does archiving and preservation of films and they are not working there anymore and replaced by these guys we don’t know who they are. They are telling us to organize, for example, a military film festival.

My God, that’s crazy.

JD: So that’s the reality in Brazil right now.

KMF: They are telling us that some film technologies are obsolete, so not to worry…

JD: So what’s happening right now is that people like us, directors are talking to each other and take films out of the cinemateca and hold them ourselves in our houses!

KMF: Because we are not exactly sure what is happening at cinemateca. We can’t take our chances with our films.

JD: This reminds me the scene in Tim Burton’s Batman where Joker paints smiley faces all over these paintings in the museum. Like a…

KMF: He saying that it’s more like Francis Bacon.(laughs)

You said that this project was long time coming, even before Bolsonaro took over. I noticed that it’s a lot angrier than Neighboring Sounds or Aquarius. (to JD) Is that your contribution?

JD: Uh, no it’s because we both were much more angry. Of course the film is a homage to genre cinema of the seventies from the US, Italy and Australia. But this comes from both of us. We’ve been thinking about this kind of thing for a long time. But this anger you saw in the film, it’s just a state of mind that we were at the time when we finished our final draft. Yes, it was when illegitimate government was already in. Michel Temer took over from Dilma (Rousseff of the Workers’ Party) and we were observing this growing fascism.

KMF: Yes. Three films are quite different in tone: Neighboring Sounds is more diffused and ethereal, because it was more stable time. Stable but not perfect.

Right.

KMF: Tense, like all other societies. You can make Neighboring Sounds in Sweden, you know what I mean. Then in Aquarius, I raised the tone. I wrote things in Aquarius that I wouldn’t have written in Neighboring Sounds, even to my dismay.

JD: Really?

KMF: Because it was happening. People were screaming at each other and pointing fingers. Sometimes I watch films and think, how could you not pay attention to what was happening. In my films I’ve been quite conscious of expressing the energy of the moment. I think it’s very important.

It seems, as you mentioned, to be global sentiment. I know you just hung out with Bong Joonho in London the other day. It seem that there is kind of class consciousness in global level.

KMF: I think the way things turned out the last 20 years, I mean Les Miserables also is one. Parasite of course.

Joker?

KMF: I don’t know what Joker is trying to tell me though. I was very into the film but the end, I don’t know what it’s trying to tell me, to be honest. Parasite, Les Miserable I understand.

JD: Bacurau? (laughs)

Yes. Yes.

KMF: Yes. It sends the clear message. I mean if you are cutting a character’s head off, it is quite obvious what the movie is telling us. But it’s nothing new. It comes from the past.

Yes.

KMF: It happens in Brazilian streets every time when there is violence, today. We are not only talking about the 70s or French Revolution. We are talking about dramatic expressions of political anger.

I’ve been talking to some directors over the years about using genre cinema as means of free expression. Does it apply to you in this case?

JD: Of course. It’s funny because there are many people I love and I work with in my career in Recife, trying to make films without any catharses. I just couldn’t understand what would be the point of making something if it doesn’t have that kind of release?

KMF: But genre for me is a piece of clothing that I find a little outrageous to wear it and I’m just waiting for the right time. (laughs) I mean I made Neighboring Sounds which I love but I couldn’t land a spaceship in the middle of the street in that film. It would not have been the right film for that. It would’ve fucked the whole thing up because it was about the street I was living in and about tensions and relationships among those people. Aquarius was about this wonderful, sometimes overbearing 65 year old woman and she lives in this place. So no room for a slasher or… at least in my mind anyway…or ghosts…. well there are ghosts in it.

Right.

KMF: In Bacurau, all right, now we have room for Western, we can have some Splatter, we can have some Thriller, some special effects…it was very liberating.

JD: Most importantly. We wanted to have it. We wanted to make a film like that! It was a perfect timing.

KMF: …and now I can use that special piece of clothing that will feel just right to wear it.

Speaking of a powerful woman, played here again, by the great Sonia Braga. Is there any Brazilian myth or folk tale about a Matriarchal society that you based Bacurau on?

JD: No. I don’t know where it comes from. We talk a lot about matriarchy now in the past 5 years or so. Kleber has his wonderful mother and I have mine. But we always have these women in our lives whom we love very much and respect. And we think they have a great influence on our lives and work. We can imagine that there are different ways of life with different codes and conducts that are different from us.

KMF: I don’t think it’s that far-fetched or utopian. I think it’s completely possible.

JD: Exactly. The beautiful thing is that if you look closer to many places in Brazil, you will find these small isolated, organically formed communities- in favelas and such, self-sustaining places. And because they don’t have much, there is a sense of solidarity. But they are completely aware of what’s going on in the world at the same time.

Like Cuba.

JD: Exactly. We have been to Cuba with Bacurau and what I've heard from those people was completely mindblowing because they are so lucid…lucid? They understand everything that’s happening in the world. They are not as isolated as other people make them out to be. They are very aware. We needed the first (flicks his fingers) spark. We were tired of seeing the country people being portrayed on TV, in the news and documentaries as simpletons. So that was the first spark to make Bacurau - let’s make a film about real, complex and beautiful and strange and sometimes bad people, you know? They are not distinguishable even. They are always portrayed as simple people. Or funny, exotic, cute… this is simply wrong…I don’t know I lost my train of thought.

KMF: There are hundreds and thousands of women in all over the world and Brazil raise their kids alone because their fathers are absent. It happens in all social classes, but if you look at communities, in poor communities in favelas, it happens a lot and it’s heartbreaking.

JD: It is important to mention that Brazil is a very patriarchal Country and it’s been always like that. But there was a story on this one village maybe a little bigger than the place we shot our film. We went for a research to find a such a place and we found this little place with the town square, very dignified and well taken care of. And in the middle of it, there was a statue. So we went closer to see whose statue it was. And it was not a statue of a politician or landowner. It was a woman and she was a teacher. So the character actually existed already.

KMF: It was very moving.

Got you.

JD: You know what I mean? So it’s a reality. Maybe not predominant but still a reality.

KMF: I think it’s more touching to make a dystopian film where women are strong but men are not despicable. Men are part of the equation but women are very strong. Then we have horrible men, then we have good men, then we have trans people, then we have unstable women…for me that’s the best version of the world.

Tell me about Silvero Pereira, who plays Lungo who is very charismatic. I know he is quite a famous figure in LGBTQ community. How did you bring him into this project?

KMF: It was a suggestion of Marcelo Caito.

JD: Marcelo Caito is a very talented director and producer. He is a militant from the LGBT community. Even before Bacurau, he was a very important person in LGBT community. He had this play about drag queens.

KMF: About violence against drag queens. Very tough play.

JD; You saw the play. You tell us about it. Because I haven’t seen the play yet.

KMF: It was beautiful. We were editing the film and he invited us to see the play. It was also like 4 minute walk from where I was editing. So I just walked there to see it.

JD: I wasn’t there that day so I couldn’t go.

KMF: So I was looking at him on the monitor in the editing room then I see him as a drag queen, it was such an amazing experience. But the play is very hostile. It’s very political and it demands respect. Of course I knew who he was, but seeing him in the play, everything was clearer. I could understand Lunga even more. The energy that he put into the film was very genuine.

JD: We went to this dinner to meet him, just to talk to him, not like business like. Just to flirt. Like a blind date. (laughs) We were at the table and you see the way he walks and the way he looks at you – you know that powerful look that make you uncomfortable. But he doesn’t hide his feminine side. But he is also badass. So he was exactly how we wrote the character of Lunga. So we didn’t have to think or adjust too much. I remember we went outside the restaurant and Kleber, you said to Silvero, “ I think you have a face of someone who can kill somebody.” (laughs) Just like Charles Bronson or Clint Eastwood or Sean Connery. It’s perfect!

KMF: For me the that’s the difference between Sean Connery and Roger Moore. Because Sean Connery looks like he can kill somebody. (laughs) I enjoy Roger Moore as Bond. But he doesn’t have that kind of face.

Did you have Sonia Braga in mind when you wrote the part of Domingas?

KMF: Secretly without telling her, not even telling Julian about it. Because when you write with an actor/actress in mind, it’s just like you are editing a film with the piece of music you really like but you don’t have rights cleared and you don’t have money to pay for the rights and you grow attached to the music… But yeah I had some dream of me that she be interested in it. But at the same time it was a bit dangerous and she said that herself the other day. That it is dangerous to think about this film because how am I gonna merge or arrange all these incredible faces because it’s a very regional film, there are locals, Americans, non-professionals, professionals…is it gonna work, I mean…. Because Sonia has such an amazing face but of course she was incredibly intelligent and made all the decisions on costumes and make up and her willingness to play, it is not fair to say without make up because there is make up, but not the kind of-

JD: Not the ‘diva’ make up.

KMF: Yes. the normal person make up. (laughs)

JD: I just think Sonia is a very smart intelligent woman because it demonstrates that she is into making interesting films. She just came off playing the character of a hero: the film was about her and the camera was pointing toward her 100 percent of the time. It’s amazing that she came with us since the beginning and stayed with us on location, even when she wasn’t needed on set, she was there to just live in the environment and to know the people. She is very disciplined.

KMF: And she is still in touch with everybody including extras and locals.

Wow. That’s amazing. So what’s going to happen? What’s going to happen to the Brazilian cinema that I love?

KMF: What was happening was we were getting a lot of diversity. And I hope young people will make films any way they can. Which is the way I started making films when I first started. Then I’d show films to our friends.

JD: We didn’t start making film in school. We didn’t study cinema.

KMF: We just bought cameras and we started making films. I spent 15 years in that mold which was a bit too much.

JD: Yeah I agree.

KMF: Then I was beginning to get fed up with….Then we got some funding and that’s when I started doing things a little more professionally, people getting paid and all. That you know this is work.

JD: One important thing is that Brazil in that 15 years were very different. We achieved a lot in Lula years – the kind of decentralization of funding for cinema because it was very concentrated in the South East.

KMF: Neighboring Sound was the direct result of this.

Right.

JD: for a guy like him, in the 90s, there was no money. Back then it was only 35mm films that was considered legit. He was making films on VHS or BetaCam.

KMF: But because of hierarchy, any terrible films shot on 35mm would get a lot of play, because that was ‘cinema’. I did have some good stuff on video but that would never see the light of day.

JD: My generation is a little different. We started with the digital cameras. So we could edit our films in our PCs. It changed a lot. So more people were doing it in the beginning of 2000s.

KMF: And then the funding became more decentralized.

JD: And we started to organize as a group, supporting each other and such.

KMF: In Pernambuco there are lot of cultural organizations now and they are still very much in place. And our film got selected by Cannes got us a lot of exposure. And we had a chance to talk with the governor for an hour. This was a major event.

What I want to say to the younger filmmakers is that I hope the situation now is inspirational to go and do something. We have a lot of technology available to do things cheaply.

It’s always the case with the countries with economic hardship or austerity measures, be it Portugal, Greece where great film movement flourish, no? More challenge and scarce the better?

KMF: Exactly.

JD: But this is very important. There are 300,000 film industry professionals. What are they gonna do? Netflix can’t absorb all of them.

KMF; The government is intentionally making them unemployed. It’s a terrible situation. The film industry is not a hobby.

JD: We are bigger than pharmaceutical industry in Brazil. It’s not small at all. We have a pharmacy in every corner. Just to give you an example. What are we gonna do?

KMF: We are working on that. (laughs)

It’s been a pleasure talking with you guys.

JD: Pleasure was all ours.

Friday, March 6, 2020

MADE IN HONG KONG [OFFICIAL TRAILER]

Made in Hong Kong 4K Restoration is a Gutter Punk Goodness

Made in Hong Kong (1997) - Fruit Chan
made in hong kong
Fruit Chan's Made in Hong Kong came out right after Hong Kong Handover to Mainland China in 1997. With its youthful energy and boisterous amateur cast, the film reflects rather an anxious and pessimistic view of what lays ahead for the new generation facing uncertainty.

It's a kinetic, viseral, shoe-string budget film about a wayward high school drop out/triad wannabe Moon (Sam Lee in a star making role) working as a low level debt collector. Moon spends most of his days jerking off, going through his mom's purse, hanging out with his buddy Sylvester (Wenders Li), a big simpleton who gets bullied around by high school students. Moon terrorizes people who owe Big Brother Cheung money for living.

On one of these runs for collecting money, he meets Ping (Neiky Hui-Chi Yim), a naif with a pixie haircut and falls in love. They soon become an inseparable trio, roaming the busy streets of Hong Kong, having fun. But their carefree lives turn sour after witnessing a suicide of a high school girl named Susan in the neighborhood. Being in possession of the dead girl's suicide note haunt Moon, all throughout, as he procrastinates to do the right thing and return it to her parents.

Moon finds out Ping is dying of a kidney failure and Sylvester is always in need of his protection from the bullies. Then there is a turf war in the neighborhood involving his rival Fat Chan that he has to reckon with.

Made in Hong Kong does not only serve as an anxiety ridden, wayward youth film but also work as a time capsule. Fruit Chan has captured some extraordinary details of the places in Hong Kong in late 90s on celluloid: overcrowded subsidized housing projects, bustling city markets, decrepit corridors and alleys, long stair cases, signs and architecturally uneven skyline of the forever changing city. If Chris Doyle lensed Hong Kong in Wong Kar-Wai movies are hyper romanticized version of the city, Made in Hong Kong, shot by O Sing-pui (who went on to shoot Ip-Man), presents an energetic, ghetto punk version of the same city through a glass darkly.
There are some spectacular scenes that stands out in the film: a steep mountain top cemetery of Chai Wan as the trio runs around looking for the Susan's grave. The kinetic hit sequence where Moon fails to kill the businessmen, alternating between attempt and fantasy, Moon being attacked by a skateboarding hitman with a screwdriver sent by Fat Chan. Made in Hong Kong is filled with nervous energy all the way through its pessimistic, melancholic end.

In 2017, on the 20th anniversary of its release, Made in Hong Kong was restored by the Udine Far East Film Festival (Italy), starting from the original camera negatives and working under the direct supervision of Fruit Chan and cinematographer O Sing-pui. The restoration is as authentic and true to the original film as possible. The film is gorgeous to look at. Pristine images preserve Hong Kong in its uncertain times and jittery atmosphere perfectly, like in a time capsule. See it on the big screen. You won't be disappointed. The film opens Friday 3/6 at Metrograph

Rendezvous with French Cinema 2020

An Easy Girl/Une fille facile - Rebecca Zlotowski
easy girl
Set in sun-kissed Cannes in summer, An Easy Girl is an astutely observed coming of age story in the material world we are living in. Writer/director Rebecca Zlotowski expertly balances the film from slipping into a typical 'rich older man meets young girl for sexual favors' tale. The film examines the youth in the age of social media and unfettered consumerism and tells that there is more to what meets the eye.

It's the start of a summer break and Naima (Mina Farid) has just turned 16. Still aimless and unsure of her self, she looks up to her newly arrived cousin from Paris, Sophia (Zahia Dehar, a French tabloid sensation cum model/designer). Sophia knows how to command her beauty and use it on men to support her extravagant tastes. She tells her young cousin it's not love but sensations she is after. Sophia catches the eyes of Andres (Nino Lopez), an extremely wealthy art collector who's yacht is docked in the harbor. The girls are then invited on board for soirée under the watchful eye of Philippe (Benoit Magimel), his assistant.

Even though Naima is clearly uncomfortable with her glitzy, guilded surroundings, a glimpse and a taste into the rich and famous is too tempting. But she knows that being free is not just having a lot of money. And it's quiet, withdrawn Philippe who she feels a sort of kinship with.

Discovering and finding value in oneself is what she learns in the course of the hot summer of fun. Farid is pitch perfect for the role of a girl who is still searching for herself and her place in the universe with natural, subtle acting and Dehar is also very effective playing hedonistic, detached young woman who floats through life.

Burning Ghost/Vif-argent - Batut
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Burning Ghost is a paranormal love story that falls between Ghost/Sixth Sense and Afterlife. Juste (Thimotée Robart) is a young man who serves as a gentle guide for recently departed souls to the afterlife, under the order of bureaucratic grim reaper Kramarz (Saadia Bentaïeb). He is invisible to everyone except his colleagues and freshly departed. His idling purgatory is disrupted when Agathe (Mikael Hers regular, Judith Chemla) recognizes him and obviously can see him on the street and follows him. Ten years ago, they met in Turkey and Agathe never forgot about her first love. Now she finds him not aged at all. They fall in love all over again. But because of the laws of the afterlife that mortals are not privy of, Juste becomes invisible to Agathe, and only can appear in her dream.

Closely teetering on sentimental saccharine fest saved by Céline Bozon's elegant, lyrical cinematography and charming leads, Burning Ghost is a beautiful contemplation of memories, love and death.

On a Magical Night/Chambre 212
- Honoré
On a Magical Night
Maria (Chiara Mastroianni) is a law professor who sleeps around with her younger pupils, even though Richard (Benjamin Biolay, a French singer/music producer who is a Benicio Del Toro doppelgänger), her husband of 25 years, is a good man. She just woke up in bed with one of her student named Asdrubal Electorat, just because his name aroused her. Richard finds out the affair by seeing her busy chat app on the phone. Avoiding the confrontation, Maria goes over to a hotel next street to stay the night.

There she is visited by several people from her past, including young Richard (Vincent Lacoste), his first love/piano teacher Irene(Camille Cottin), her Charles Aznavour-like own will (Stéphane Roger) and dozen of her former lovers over the years.

In true Honoré fashion, On a Magical Night is a musical fantasy steeped in whimsical comedies of old Hollywood and his love for cinema: the setting is snowy winter Paris, Maria and Richard live above a movie theater, piano singalong serves as reconnecting with one's past, obvious studio set mise-en-scene, etc.

Honoré's contemplation of memories, love and marriage are delightfully captured by great ensemble cast with his usual muses - Mastroianni and Lacoste). It's a great fun film to get away from the wretched reality.
Joan of Arc - Dumont
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On an intellectual level, I understand what Dumont, the famed auteur of French cinema, heir to the Bressonian minimalist tradition, is doing with Joan of Arc franchise (if you will), but that doesn't necessarily make it an enjoyable movie going experience. After Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc; a headbanger's ball that was part musical, part comedy of manners, part historical retelling of a young French maid who believed that she was god's messenger to take up arms and lead the French army to rid of English invasion, Dumont continues to tell the other half of the story, faithfully following Charles Péguy's rhythmic prose from three part poem/play, which tells Joan's defeat and trial and burning at the stake.

With minimal settings and mostly non-professional actors, Dumont examines Joan (played by Lise Leplat Prudhomme, a ten year old girl who played the character in the first film and not Jeanne Voisin who replaced her as a teen Joan in the same film - I mean, why bother with logic?), as she struggles to answer her accusers of heresy. She doesn't hear the voice that was guiding her to the battle anymore. Does she still keep her faith or admit that god might have abandoned her?

The tragic beauty of the story of Joan has always been her inner struggle and her unwavering faith in the face of torture and death. Even though Prudhomme does an amiable job and Dumont makes a point of using a child instead of a grown woman (Joan was 19 when she died), as innocent victim of sexism and hypocracy of the church. But it doesn't make a compelling experience to watch as clergies dryly argue over Joan's fate while the child screams on top of her lungs, "It is none of your concern!" over and over.

Someone Somewhere/Deux Moi - Klapisch
Someone,Somewhere
A romantic comedy in the tradition of "there is a perfect match right next door unbeknownst you". Melanie (Ana Girardot) is a medical lab technician who sleeps too much and has a low self-esteem after a long relationship ended. Rémy (François Civil) is an web sales warehouse worker who thinks he is a bad luck around him. They happen to live adjacent buildings on the same level and have never met in real life.

Kalpisch, as usual, paints Paris as a city with clusters of lonely souls trying to connect with each other, sometimes successfully and other times not. With most stretches of film's running time, he makes the case that these two attractive Parisians are made for each other, but only after they work out their kinks, with the help of a pair of psychotherapists.

Someone Somewhere feels a bit like self-help - "you are allowed to love yourself" movie, but the characters are very affable and relatable. Girardot and Civil are very good so as large supporting characters (notably Camille Cottin and François Berléand as psychotherapists, Pierre Niney as old friend reconnected through social network, and Paul Hamy as a failed tinder date).

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Eternal Cinema

La Película infinita/The Endless Film (2018) - Listorti
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Leandro Listorti, filmmaker and curator of the film museum in Buenos Aires, makes a non-narrative film culled from never completed, abandoned Argentinian films. La película infinita Shows you the power of cinema, purely in visual terms (sometimes accompanied by music, bits of dialog, minor sound effects, some synced with the original footages and others not). The lure of these images are undeniable - the way they demand your full attention suck you in is nothing short of miraculous. We all know that these are unfinished films. We are all aware that it's not going to go anywhere. But it doesn't matter. The pull of the scenes are so strong and mysterious, whether it's a barrel of a gun pointing, a shadowy figures in the background, the chalk marks on the floor.... A scene is a great promise: a start or in the middle of mystery that will never be solved. We want more. La Película infinita will make a great double feature with another essay film, Ne croyez surtout pas que je hurle/Just Don't Think I will Scream.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

A Yellow Jacket is Just a Yellow Jacket, Nothing More: Angela Schanelec Interview

Schanelec
One of the leading figures of the Berlin School, Angela Schenelec has been quietly garnering reputation and fan base as one of the most important contemporary German directors, for her complex, enigmatic work since the early 90s with such films as Marseille and Orly. With her new film, I Was at Home, But…, she won a Silver Bear (Best Director prize) at Berlinale, 2019. The film is getting a theatrical run in New York on 2/14 and Film at Lincoln Center is presenting the complete retrospective titled Dreamed Paths: The Films of Angela Schanelec (2/7-2/13) As a big fan of Schanelec’s mysterious and thought-provoking films, I was ecstatic to find out that she would be in town for the last year’s New York Film Festival. I sought out to get a chance to talk to her during the festival and was richly rewarded with an one-on-one interview at posh yet empty Library Bar, situated in Hudson Hotel Midtown, last October afternoon.

I watched your latest film I Was at Home, But… and there’s a lot to take in. It starts with a pastoral scene with barnyard animals - a donkey in particular. I know you are a fan of Robert Bresson. Was Au hasard Bathazar something you were thinking about When you were making the film?

I mean, Au hazard Balthazar is one of the most beautiful films ever made. The first film I saw from Bresson was L’Argent. It impressed me very deeply. Many many questions arose in me after seeing that film, not only about filmmaking but about life. Then I saw other films by him. The last scene where the donkey is going to die in Au Hasard Balthazar…. I mean, there is nothing more to say. But I saw the film long ago…. At the same time, a donkey is a donkey, you know? Nothing more. Maybe I wanted to free myself (from Bresson) by showing it. The original idea was not Balthazar. Nevertheless, this Bressonian donkey has been in my mind for a long time. But there is a German fairytale: These barnyard animals live together in the house. There is a donkey and a dog and so on.

You mean the Bremen Town Musicians?

Yes. This was the idea for me. Humans don’t want them anymore because they are old. So they find each other and they live together in a house. So there are different influences for that scene.

It was interesting to me. I interpret it in respect to Balthazar that the donkey is protecting the dog whose nature is taking small animals apart. That he is there to forgive everything.

Yeah.

That he is a protector. That’s how I felt when I saw that scene. And it was very beautiful.

It seems that grief and death are hanging over the whole film. Was that your starting point for this film when you were first writing?

The starting point was the image of the boy who comes back and he is 13 or so. I saw him all dirty at a street crossing which is now not in the film. And then…so what does that mean? And yes I have a son but he never disappeared. Maybe the image came about from the relief that he never disappeared or fear that he could have disappeared. And then I wrote scene by scene and that’s how the film came about. It was never my intention to write about grief.

It wasn’t?

No it wasn’t. It came up during writing. So he comes home and who else is there- there’s a mother and a little sister. Who else? No one. A dog but not a father.

The color choices on the film are also very striking to me. The boy’s jacket is yellow and the girl’s is bright red. All the images you present in all your films really fascinate me. Since your films are not strongly narrative oriented and in fragments, I always wanted to know for a long time what your writing process is like. How do you approach your subject? As you say, you build it up from a particular image in your mind?

Yes. In the beginning there is an image, then that image creates the next image. But I would say these images aren’t all that important. The emphasis on these images are not the approach I take. A yellow jacket is just a yellow jacket. There is nothing behind, I want to say. You understand what I mean? The yellow is felt because it’s just yellow. It doesn’t have to…

It doesn’t have to symbolize something…

Yes! I think that is very important to realize.

This so called the Berlin School where they group you with a bunch of other German filmmakers, the way I see it, the way I always thought of the Berlin School is that of transient life, the loss of identity or looking for identity. In your films I see that theme a lot as well. Do you have affinity to the School? Or is it just critics and scholars grouping you guys together.

In the beginning when the label first came up it was only Christian (Petzold), Thomas (Arslan) and me and we know each other because we started around the same time. Christian and I were never that close but Thomas and I are friends still. But we don’t talk much about our work. I mean, when we started together we talked about films and shared similar interests in films. More Thomas and me. We didn’t really involve ourselves in each other’s films - I am talking about writing scripts together or anything like that. We saw each other’s films when they were done. But later on, anything made in Germany that is not comedy is considered the Berlin School films (laughs), and they found some funny moments of my films too, so… (laughs) See, it became so general that it (the label) lost all meaning.

If it’s not a grouping of themes, I feel it’s a generational thing - you guys grew up and went through the Berlin wall coming down in 89 and there is this divide… Watching yours or Arslan’s or Petzold’s I always felt that it played a big role. But in I Was at Home, But… I didn’t feel that. I can say that there was a historical context regarding the divide in your last film Dreamed Path. I don’t see that much of a historical context in the new film. Is this a fair assessment?

I think it is true. I mean you are right that with Christian and Thomas, I am in the same generation, the generation who started to make films in the 90s. It’s different with Christoph Hochhäusler, Ulrich Köhler, because they are next generation of filmmakers. We are only ten or fifteen years apart but that plays a big role. You are right about the fact that we started in the 90s when Germany is saturated with comedies, so that plays a role. But time has passed since then. So there is no connection between Thomas and me and Christian’s films anymore. And that’s why.

Maren Eggert, the actress who has been in many of your early films, plays the main character, Astrid. I am curious about your working process with her. Does she know what you are trying to do with each of your films in advance? (she shakes her head) No?

But she can’t, because I don’t.

It’s not written in the script as...?

No the script is written exactly, the dialog’s written exactly what you see. Nothing is improvised. The long scene with the daughter and her, for example, I mean she learned it, she learned the text but she can’t know because I don’t know.

Interesting.

And the difference with her compared to other actors is that she gives me the feeling that she trusts me. She doesn’t ask questions. She takes the scene that is given and she lets herself go with it. She is not afraid, probably because we’ve known each other for so long. She knows that with me she doesn’t have to prove anything. It’s always the case that if you work with an actor that you haven’t worked with before, he wants to prove it to you. It really doesn’t make sense. It’s about situations and it’s about sentences and it’s about practical things that have to happen in front of the camera. It’s never about interpretation, it’s never about meaning, it’s never about where we are going. Maren doesn’t ask these because films are not about where we are going. (laughs) It’s about a scene. Then another scene.

Is it the same for you when you are directing children?

Yes. With I Was at Home, but also Dreamed Path I employed child actors. For Maren I give her the script since I know her and we have a mutual trust. But I don’t give other actors the whole script. Because it won’t make sense. It doesn’t have anything. On the contrary, if they saw the script, there will be more conflicting questions that will not be productive for the project. Sure for children I didn’t have the script. They didn’t need it.

It is fascinating to hear this since watching your films I had all these ideas about how you approach your films. This is very helpful.

There are many visual images that strike me in this film. There is a recurring image of the crown. I don’t want to ask what it means but how does it connect with the film?

The crown…

I was also thinking about Balthazar again, about the flower wreath the girl puts on the donkey.

Presenting the crown to someone is a very beautiful act. Then you make him very independent and strong in a way. Because the king doesn’t need to be told what he has to do or anything. I mean you can read it like that but you know it’s more complex. The crown means, “I exist and I don’t need you to…”

“Validate me?”

Yes. So then, giving the crown to children, it’s even more beautiful. But you can’t do it like that in real life. Shakespeare gave me a chance to do it. And to go one step further, there was a boy in the supermarket and I did it without Shakspeare since there was a crown already in the film.

I thought it was beautiful. It’s a striking image. The crown in the mud and the custodian picks it up. I loved that scene.

I loved the scene in the parking lot with the teachers who, I guess one professing his love to the fellow teacher and it broke my heart. How did you come up with the scene and how does that tie with the rest of the film?

The question of motherhood is the one that ties in. It was presented in the film very soon. I mean… it is always more complex than that. When mother doesn’t want to have a child, it stops right there and then. Every man, every boy has a mother. It has so many aspects. The fact that our society today we stopped accepting what nature makes possible. This notion of “I have the right to have a child” and “if the nature doesn’t give it to me, for whatever physicla circumstances, then modern medicine will give it to me”. This idea is very strange to me. That we don’t accept anymore what is given to us. And on the other hand, in the scene, she is the other way around. Physically she can get pregnant and can give birth but she doesn’t want children. So that’s how it came up. I was interested in a woman who says “no”. And it is impossible for the man to understand but it does not make him stop loving her.

No, this is true. That’s why the scene is beautiful and heart breaking because he asks, “so you love me and I understand that you don’t want to have a child but then what else is out there after we are gone?” It really struck me.

Yes. But there is nothing more to say than that in that scene. The young woman who decides not to have children, opposite mirror Astrid.

Another scene that I really loved was that Astrid was in the Kitchen and the kids were making mess and she just loses it. And the children try to console her and she just pushes them away. That’s tough for children.

That’s something I feel very strong about: children don’t judge. They are not able because they need the mother. At some point in their lives they start to judge but I think it’s a very existential point when that happens but in this film they don’t. It’s also important that there are two. They have each other. And that makes them stronger but also generous.

Also important for me that that kitchen scene is not some turning point. We see her the next morning that she is the same. That that scene is not some kind of clutch, as if that will solve things going forward. No, nothing can be solved. And life continues. In film dramaturgy, this would be the plot point. No it’s not. It’s not essential to be a plot point. It’s a scene of humans. Maybe they later will have some epiphany but they can not know at that point. I also don’t know.

Interesting point.

There has been 6 years gap between Orly and Dreamed Path. And three years gap between Dreamed Path and I Was at Home. Why is that? And what is your next project?

Yes I am working on a new script. But the long period between Orly and Dreamed Path was very painful. It’s a long story. The money wasn’t there and I had three producers. I had written I Was at Home already before I shot Dreamed Path. Also when I shot the Dreamed Path we had this summer scene in the beginning and at the end. But most of the scenes were shot in October and November and we had to wait 6 months to shoot the summer scene in Croatia and another part of Germany for the end of the film. There were also free phases that I was able to think about a new film. It’s based on the Oedipus myth. We now associate Oedipus with Freud, but my story is not that. The first part of the story is this child who was lost and grows up not knowing his real parents and accidentally murdering his real father and then also not knowing his mother and accidentally meeting her and falling in love with her. So that’s the first half of the film. Then they have a child and then they understand who they are.

I am interested.

We are trying to find the money for it and if everything goes well, I’d like to start shooting next September. I am really worried about how it’s gonna go with the financing because it will be more expensive than I Was at Home, but… because we want to shoot in Greece.

Got you. You shot in Greece before no?

Yes. Dreamed Path was also shot in Greece. It was also at higher cost. So this film, I Was at Home but was much lower cost and I produced it myself.

Is it always difficult to finance your film?

Yes.

It’s a pity. Hopefully you won't have problems for the new one so we will be able to see it soon.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Post-Wall Cinema of Christian Petzold: The Berlin School and Beyond

Post-Wall Cinema of Christian Petzold: The Berlin School and Beyond - Mapping Germany’s Past, Present and Future

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Gespenster/Ghosts (2004) is a great introduction for getting into the world of German director Christian Petzold. The film’s cold and unforgiving atmosphere, daring split narrative structure, economy of its camera movements and edits, the acute representation of its female protagonists’ disconnection and loneliness, comments on Germany’s political & cultural landscape and collective German psyche in the post-wall neo-liberal Germany. With his latest, 15th feature length film Transit, getting a wide distribution in the States in 2019, I decided to examine the impact his films have made in modern German cinema and his representation of Germany’s past, present – both east and west, and future through 4 specific films from his filmography.

68er Studentenprotest Debatte Generation
In order to talk about Christian Petzold’s films and the Berlin School, in which he is considered as one of the key figures, one needs to talk about 68er Bewegung/German Student Movement of 1968. Around 1966, fueled by violent police crackdown and encouraged by other student protests across the globe, German university students, dissatisfied with the conservative, authoritarian policies of those in power (many of them from Nazi era), began organizing massive sit-ins and street demonstrations which started in Freie Universität Berlin/Free University Berlin, then spread around the country. They were rallying against the silence for the US imperial war in Vietnam, restrictions on civil rights and press and enacting German Emergency Acts, which was seen as the revival of fascism. The protests peaked in May 1968 with massive demonstrations resulting in the death of 2 students and declined after the coalition government passed the Emergency Acts which gave a power to the government to curb any dissident activities during national emergencies. This is also the time New German Cinema formed. Getting their inspiration from French New Wave and British New Wave, New German cinema strove for reflecting politically and artistically meaningful subjects and rebuffed the standard film production process. Its directors such as Alexander Kluge, Harun Farocki, Hartmut Bitomski, Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Magarette von Trotta and many others projected their frustrations over artistic and political stagnation in the midst of the economic miracle which built on the backs of migrant labor. But however invigorating and thought provoking New German Cinema movement appeared to be, its legacy, made up a handful of internationally revered auteurs, was overshadowed by its financial failure and the fact it was mostly ignored domestically in favor of commercially viable albeit mediocre films. With strong influence of private and public television companies and the proliferation of home videos, the enthusiastic spirit of New German cinema had died out by mid-80s.

What came after that was so called “cinema of consensus”, termed by scholar Eric Rentschler. He argued that the vast majority of German film productions in the nineties consisted of light fare meant to please and placate audiences. This trend toward uncomplicated storylines with agreeable resolutions becomes all the more prominent if one compares German cinema of the nineties with that of the seventies. Rentschler applauded New German Cinema directors who in the seventies “interrogated images of the past in the hope of refining memories and catalyzing changes.” By contrast, Rentschler saw contemporary German cinema as lacking “oppositional energies and critical voices.” A decade went by which saw the fall of the Berlin wall and the directors who were born in the 60s came of age.

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Christian Petzold with Harun Farocki

The Berlin School is considered the most significant film movement in Germany since the New German cinema. The first wave of its directors including Angela Schanelec (b.1962), Thomas Arslan (b.1962) and Petzold (b.1960) all attended Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin/The German Film and TV Academy Berlin (DFFB). It’s name, the Berlin School, first coined by film critic Merten Worthmann in describing Schanelec’s Passing Summer (2001) and later critics at Cahier du cinéma started grouping them as Nouvelle Vague Allemande, the Berlin School is loosely connected group of filmmakers (the second wave of Berlin School directors don’t necessarily come from DFFB) who were countering what mainstream German cinema had become- the cinema of consensus. They’ve been working in each other’s projects and constantly in communication through interviews and publications (Revolver - an influential film magazine, founded by the second wave directors of the movement, Christoph Hochhäusler and Benjamin Heisenberg, which gave the Berlin School its further legitimization in the industry). Their films are not easily defined and can’t be readily be explained with few words, but the main theme these filmmakers are grappling with in the post-wall Germany is “sehnsucht” (longing)- a longing for Germany that never materialized under neoliberal capitalism. The Berlin School, in effect, is ‘reseeing’ Germany without being tied to its war past, without exploiting history. It’s the ‘here and now’ of unified Germany. Even though the Berlin School’s output doesn’t very much resemble those of New German Cinema and by the disciples of Oberhausen Manifesto, a declaration of 26 young German filmmakers to establish ‘a new German feature film” in 1962. I would argue that the connection between New German Cinema and the Berlin School runs deeper than both just countering mainstream cinema. There is definitely a strong leftwing political lineage, if not in teacher-student relations (Harun Farocki and Hartmut Bitomsky were DFFB Faculty), but in films of Petzold, Ulrich Köhler, Christoph Hochhäusler and many others the fighting spirit of counter cinema, as Köhler articulates that the job of art is not to be political (qua content) but to produce politically.

Although many critics emphasized the Berlin School’s presentist and realist approach, Petzold has been concerned with history in various ways throughout his filmography. With his last three films, Barbara which takes place in East Germany in the 80s, Phoenix, set in the aftermath of WWII and Transit, set in the near future/parallel present where Europe is in the grip of Fascist German regime once again, Petzold, unlike his compatriots of the Berlin School, does not shy away from Germany’s ugly past and finds new and innovative approaches to address the same inquiry – unfulfilled desire of finding a collective utopia that is ‘Deutschland’. By approaching Petzold’s four films in the years they were released rather than historical timeline, we gain insight to Petzold the filmmaker, evolving over time as a writer/director:

die innere sicherheit
The first feature Petzold directed outside TV, Die innere Sicherheit (2000) tells a story of a young girl named Jeanne whose parents belong to the far-left militant organization (unsaid in the film, but most likely Red Army Faction; RAF). For the first time, this was a breakout film by a filmmaker from the Berlin School and garnered a critical and commercial success for the first time. When the film starts, this nuclear family is on the run in Greece. Always extremely cautious of their surroundings – in colorless attire, not trusting anyone, constantly on the move in their comfy confines of their white Volvo, they lead voluntarily invisible lives. Jeanne has lived on the road all her life, thus never experienced a ‘normal life’. Now that she is a teenager, she questions her predicament for the first time. She wants to attend school. She wants to ‘hang out’ at the mall and buy new clothes. She wants to fall in love. She wants to do and be like any other girl her age in a neo-liberal, capitalist society. She rebels against her parents even though she understands that there is no way she would ever leave her parents. They are the only family she’s known. After finding out the bundle of money in Deutsch Marks they just dug up from the hidden place where their comrades had buried long ago is too old and rendered useless in the time of Euros, they decide to rob a bank. Despite the screwed up the situation, Jeanne has no choice but to stick with them. There is a heartbreaking scene that takes place in their Volvo: Jeanne’s parents find out that she fell in love with a boy her age during one of their stops, that she might have spilled too much information about who they are. Now Jeanne is a liability. The parents decide to ditch her with some relatives. They justify it by saying that it’s time she needs to lead a normal life. Jeanne protests back, “You decide that after 9 years? You shouldn’t have had me then! You can take that back now!” When she pleads that she will never love anyone again, the parents relent. Perhaps it’s because deep down, Jeanne knows the contemporary life in West Germany is superficial and there is no meaning to any of it. She understands that her parents, who have been violently resisting the status quo of capitalism since the 68er Bewegung, are right ultimately, even though her young life is wrecked. Again, like in many of the Berlin School films, the atmosphere is bleak and claustrophobic. Edit in the cuts are almost brutal, accentuating the fact that the family is always on the run and their emotions are in check. Julia Hummer, a young actress who also shines in Gespenster, embodies the angst of a new generation stuck between the ideals of the generation before her in the neoliberal capitalist society, forever vacillating where to put her allegiance. Der innere Sicherheit does, like Petzold’s other films before and after it, examine sensucht, the longing for that unrealized utopia in West Germany.

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Barbara (2012) marks Petzold’s first deviation from presentist tendencies of the Berlin School. It is set in 1980 in East Germany, which was 9 years before the fall of the Berlin wall. It’s his first ‘period film’ depicting the life under German Democratic Republic (GDR)- the place of his parents. He himself never experienced growing up. It’s an entirely “A-picture” according to Christoph Höchhausler, a fellow filmmaker of the Berlin School and admirer. But the film is not a scathing indictment of the failed socialist state that was GDR. It depicts people, despite limited mobility and freedom, who try to find their sense of home as its title character chooses to do at the end of the film. And unlike German heritage films of the 90s, in which periodic details and costumes overshadow its political implications of the past, Barbara doesn’t feel like it’s a period film. Petzold’s view of the East is a of vilified view of the nightmarish failed state as it is often depicted. It’s a melodrama with the “slow realism”.
True to the Berlin School aesthetics, the film relies on unconstructed reality of effervescent beauty of everyday life. Barbara (played here by Nina Hoss) is a city doctor who gets banished to the country as a punishment when she applies for her exit visa to go west. All the while planning her escape to the west into the arms of her wealthy West German lover. 
She meets a young, good-natured fellow doctor Andre (Ronald Zehrfeld). He slowly wins her trust with his talent and sincerity. It turns out that he shares a similar history. There is a mutual attraction between them growing but things get a little more complicated when Stella, a teen runaway from a nearby labor camp is admitted to the hospital. She immediately latches on to Barbara. The official policy is to send her back to the camp as soon as she is well. As the planned escape date approaches, Barbara's personal ethics and morality are being challenged.

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Petzold elegantly uses a famous painting to drive the point home in the middle of Barbara. Andre uses Rembrandt's painting The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp as an analogy for what it's like to be living under communist regime in the 1980s: you want to divert the attention of the spectators (or in this case, of nosy government officials) to obtain a little bit of relief/freedom in a rigid society which applies to Barbara's situation as well. The painting depicts the picture of the corpse of Aris Kindt, a convicted felon laying on the autopsy table, and Dr. Tulp explaining the musculature of the dead man’s denuded right hand (as opposed to the left, to be anatomically correct) to other medical professionals. Their gazes are fixed upon the opened anatomical textbook presented in the far corner of the painting, not on their subject, the dead man or his wrong hand. In a broader sense, Andre, knowingly or not, is showing the unrealized promise of socialist utopia – the gazes are fixed on the textbook and not on the subject suggesting the GDR’s socialist theory neglected its own people.

phoenix
If Barbara was considered a period film, then Phoenix (2015), taking place just after World War II, takes the cake for being the real period film and ‘heritage picture’ (historical drama) in all of Petzold’s work. It’s a clean break from his insistence throughout all his filmography focusing his cinematic gaze on the present rather than past. The film is also unabashedly a genre cinema. Like many of the Berlin School filmmakers, Petzold is known for his use of genre filmmaking mold to tell stories. Yella (2007) is his take on American obscure indie horror Carnival of Souls (1962) and Jerichow (2008) is a reimagining of James M. Cain’s noir Postman Always Rings Twice. He once said in an interview, “I have the feeling that I make films in the cemetery of genre cinema, from the remainders that are still there for the taking.” He willfully contributes his talents to directing TV crime series Polizeiruf 110 and professed his love for Hollywood heist genre fare like Den of Thieves (2018) at a Transit screening Q & A session in New York. Taking obvious cues from Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1959), Delmer Daves’ Dark Passage (1947), Phoenix is a noir/melodrama to the highest degree. Clocking in at a very lean 98 minutes, the film revolves around a concentration camp survivor named Nelly, played once again by Nina Hoss, in her sixth collaboration with the director. Nelly returns to Berlin, now occupied by American GIs, with the aid of Lene (Nina Kunzendorf), a case worker for the newly established Jewish State, who keeps urging Nelly to leave Germany and go to Palestine, and start anew as soon as her bandages come off. Badly disfigured by a gunshot to the head in the camp, Nelly is told by doctors to choose any face for reconstruction or 'recreation' - perhaps a face of a movie siren or to be a different person altogether. Despite the urging of others, Nelly insists on having her old face back. Even though she was told that her husband Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld of Barbara) gave her up in order to save his own skin, Nelly can't stop searching for him, for she still loves him. In the film, they were a famous musical duo before the war, Nelly a chanteuse and Johnny a piano player. Her search for him leads to Phoenix, a cabaret where Johnny now works as a busboy. She is shattered when he doesn't recognize her. But there is enough of a passing resemblance that triggers Johnny to enact his scheme: he wants Nelly, now Esther, to pretend to be his wife who miraculously survived the camp and is now back, so as to get money from her estate (he secretly divorced her right before her arrest). Still deeply in love with Johnny, she goes along, keeping her emotions in check, pretending to learn old Nelly's behaviors, speech and writing (or just being herself), in order to see if he recognizes her in time. This might need a total suspension of disbelief from the audience, but in Petzold's assured hands, melodrama is kept to a minimum.

Petzold plays around with the idea of forced forgetfulness. After the atrocious war, many Germans wanted to erase its shameful history from their minds. It's Nelly and Lene who can't let go. Once she reemerges, she asks Johnny how to answer when the others ask about the camp. Johnny simply tells her, "They won't." But it's as if Johnny doesn't want to recognize her, even though she is right in front of him - buried and gone. At first, it's very hard to believe that a woman as striking as Hoss, with her penetrating blue eyes and sharp cheekbones, would be unrecognizable to anyone despite the disfigurement. Petzold's regular theme of loss of identity also plays a big role here. Nelly never had to be conscious of being Jewish before, but Nazi Germany made her do so, in a drastic way. She literally loses her face, but she longs for her old self even though she learns along the way that nothing is the same anymore. With these heady ideas in the background, the film moves along in its stunningly economic pace, without sacrificing beautiful period details or complexities of characters. In preparation for Nelly's comeback from the dead (to legitimize the inheritance), Johnny divulges about how his neighbors and friends turned away from them once Nelly was being hunted by the Nazis. The film perfectly builds up to its emotionally cathartic ending.

Phoenix further shows Petzold’s direct confrontation with Germany’s past, using the B-movie genre mold. He digs up the sensitive subject of collective guilt and forgetfulness and challenges the rise of white nationalism in post-wall, supposedly cosmopolitan Germany. The film is further evidence that the filmmaker is charting new territory away from the establishing tenet of the Berlin School.

transit-3
Based on a 1942 novel by Anna Seghers on her experience in France under Nazi Occupation, Transit (2019) is another first in growing Petzold filmography. It is a film not originally written by the writer/director. It transposes its premise to modern day/near future Maseilles, again being under the Fascist Germany. With the rise of authoritarian right wing regimes and their nationalist rhetoric and anti-immigrant sentiments across Europe and everywhere, it is frightening to think that this film is not a far-fetched scenario. This time Petzold uses a sci-fi/noir mold to paint people who are again, on the run, pushed by outside forces. Georg (Franz Rogowski) is asked to deliver letters to Weidel, a writer of some importance in Paris. It's a dangerous mission- there are police raids daily and it's harder to get around on the street without constantly being asked for proper papers. Everyone knows a major raid is about to go down soon: there are people being dragged away in the streets by the heavily armed authorities- 'the purge' is at hand. But with some money promised, Georg is up to the challenge. But once he gets to Paris, he finds that the famed writer has committed suicide, leaving his documents and the latest manuscript behind. With others urging to take a sick Arab man to Marseilles and notify the Mexican consulate of the death of Weidel, Georg hops on the train to the now occupied port city. Petzold brilliantly equates this dystopian scenario with the current Syrian refugee crises. He also alludes the holocaust using trains as a human transport. The letters reveal that Weidel was promised a safe passage with his wife Marie (Paula Beer of Franz) to go to Mexico and that she will be waiting for him in Marseilles. Once he arrives at Marseilles, he reluctantly assumes the identity of Weidel, makes friends with an Arab immigrant boy whose dad (the sick man) he accompanied on the journey died on the way. He also sees Marie everywhere, scouring the city for her husband, day in and day out. She is involved with Richard, a doctor who has put his departure on hold because he doesn't want to leave her behind. No one wants to be the one who leaves. These characters are stuck, going around in circles, trapped by love, by the sense of loyalty or simply by human decency.

Transit's got a lot to do with guilty conscience: Guilt of leaving someone behind. Guilt of forgetting. Guilt of being indifferent. In this, the film is a great companion piece to Phoenix. It also is in line with Petzold's usual themes - people in transit, state of uncertainty caused by an outside force, by something bigger than an individual and again, the question of identity. Even though Petzold again uses the noir/sci-fi mold for his narrative, being an adaptation from the 40s, it resembles strongly of Nouveau Roman writers' works and feels closer to Alain Resnais’ contemplation on memories and forgetfulness.

Looking over the course of Petzold’s mid-career filmography, there are unmissable thematic consistencies coursing through all his work. Although he shares many similar themes with fellow filmmakers of the Berlin School, he deviates from presentist tendencies of the School and actively, engages in inquiries about what it means to be German into past and future. Petzold might be the fiercest and bravest of the bunch. Mapping Germany from east to west and from past to present and future, Christian Petzold continues to distinguish himself not only as a gifted storyteller but also as a keen observer of German history.


Sources Consulted


Abel, Marco. ​The Counter-Cinema of the Berlin School​. Boydell and Brewer, 2013: ​1-28, 69-110

Baute, Michael, Ekkhard Knrer, Volker Pantenberg, Stefan Pethke and Simon Rothhler​. “​The Berlin School - A Collage.​” Senses of Cinema, ​Issue 55 (July 2010) http://sensesofcinema.com/2010/feature-articles/the-berlin-school-%E2%80%93- a-collage-2/

Cook, Roger. “The Texture of History: Petzold’s Barbara and The Lives of Others.” Senses of Cinema, Issue 84 (September 2017) http://sensesofcinema.com/2017/christian-petzold-a-dossier/the-texture-of-history/

Fisher, Jaimey. “Petzold’s Phoenix, Fassbinder’s Maria Braun, and the Melodramatic Archaeology of the Rubble Past.” Senses of Cinema, Issue 84 (September 2017) http://sensesofcinema.com/2017/christian-petzold-a-dossier/petzold-fassbinder/

Fisher, Jaimey, Marco Abel. “Christian Petzold: A Dossier.” Senses of Cinema, Issue 84 (September 2017) http://sensesofcinema.com/2017/christian-petzold-a-dossier/christian-petzold-introduction/

Hjort, Mette, Scott MacKenzie eds. Cinema and nation. London; New York: Routledge, 2000: 260-278

Hochhäusler, Christoph. “The Protestant Method.” Senses of Cinema, Issue 84 (September 2017) http://sensesofcinema.com/2017/christian-petzold-a-dossier/the-protestant-method/

O’Brien, Mary-Elizabeth. ​Post-Wall German Cinema and National History: Utopianism and Dissent.​ Boydell and Brewer, 2012.

Petzold, Christian. “The Cinema of Identification Gets on my Nerves: An Interview with Christian Petzold.” by Marco Abel, Cineaste, Vol 33, No 3 (2008) https://www.cineaste.com/summer2008/the-cinema-of-identification-gets-on-my-nerves

Prager, Brad. “No Time Like the Present: The Edges of the World in Christian Petzold’s Barbara.” Senses of Cinema, Issue 84 (September, 2017) http://sensesofcinema.com/2017/christian-petzold-a-dossier/christian-petzolds-barbara/

Roy, Rajendra and Anke Leweke. ​The Berlin School: Films from the Berliner Schule​. Museum of Modern Art, 2013



Sunday, January 12, 2020

How Turkish German Immigrant Experiences are Shaping Post-Wall German Cinema

How Turkish German Immigrant Experiences are Shaping Post-Wall German Cinema:
Fatih Akin’s Head-On and Thomas Arslan’s A Fine Day

Turkey & Germany
Image Ralph Peters

        November 9th, 2019 commemorates 30 years of the fall of the Berlin Wall that effectively ended the Cold War. After the fall, the unified Germany has become the global powerhouse not only economically but politically and culturally as well, with Berlin as its center once again. With the influx of migrants from the global south flooding into the country, caused by political instability and economic hardship, the face of the German society is very different now, where 15 percent of all German population considers themselves immigrants, than almost 60 years ago when the wall first went up across Berlin. The post-wall German cinema with works by directors like Thomas Arslan and Fatih Akin not only reflect this change, but invigorate the whole German cinema which has been laying stagnant since the New German Cinema of the 70s and 80s.

        The Berlin Wall, built by the German Democratic Republic (GDR, also commonly known as East Germany), to prevent the East Germans fleeing to the West, effectively cut off the flow of manual workers needed for economic revival after the devastation of WWII. West Germany (FRG) then signed a series of bilateral labor recruitment agreements with other countries, including Turkey, on the guest workers program. I thought it would be imperative to examine the history, especially of west Germany, in order to understand how Turkish German experiences are shaping the post-wall German cinema in the new millennium.

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        Two films by two filmmakers I am concentrating on are Fatih Akin’s Gegen die Wand/Head-On and Thomas Arslan’s Der schöne Tag/A Fine Day. I chose Akin and Arslan because they both are second generation Turkish Germans who came of age and start practicing their film craft in the post-wall 1989 Germany, to be precise, Arslan, since 1990 (19 Portraits) and Akin (Sensin- Du bist es), 1995. Even though they both are regarded as practicing hybridity- where they have experienced both Turkish and German cultures and move as freely between them in their craft as possible, they occupy very different areas in German motion-picture industry. I will examine how the representation of Turkish Germans in German cinema evolved through the years and investigate how their culture is contributing to the revival of the German cinema and also reflecting their uneasy relationship within the now-unified Germany. But my inquiry is not a complete picture. Head-On came out in 2004 and A Fine Day was released in 2001. Since then, many things have happened and both Akin and Arslan made other films. These films are snap shots of what was then, early turn of the millennium, and might not reflect what’s currently happening. This inquiry will need a postscript at some point.

        Germany signed labor agreement with Turkey in 1961, the same year the Berlin Wall went up. It was meant to be a guest worker arrangement that soon proved to be neither practical nor profitable for the corporations. Many migrant workers stayed after two-year term and later brought their family in to the country. There are close to 4 million estimated Turks, including ethnic minorities from Turkey, currently living in Germany, a country of 80 million. That’s roughly 5 percent of all population. Germany holds the most concentrated Turkish population outside Turkey. Even though their almost 60 year presence in the country with its government repeatedly trying to join the European Union since the 80s, their immigration status and path to citizenship were in constant limbo until 1999, when the Citizenship Law finally granted the descendants of the first wave of migrant workforce in the 60s and 70s to become citizens, whereas descendants of German blood (having either of German parent)- Russian Germans and Eastern European Germans were automatically granted citizenship. In many ways, the post wall Germany brought out in the open the fragility of its perceived cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism that FRG strove for.

Ali
        The first wave of Turkish German cinema of the 70s and 80s were mainly domestic dramas or about the problems of the guest worker (Gastarbeiter) by directors identified with New German Cinema. Getting their inspiration from French New Wave and British New Wave, New German cinema strove for reflecting politically and artistically meaningful subjects and rebuffed the standard film production process. Its directors such as Alexander Kluge, Harun Faroki, Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and many others whose films projected their frustrations over artistic and political stagnation in the midst of the economic miracle on the backs of migrant labor. This “Gastarbeiter cinema” was that of “cinema of duty”, drawing on a social realist tradition and relying on ethnic stereotypes, used empathetic identification to promote social reform and political change. They “mostly involved overdetermined figure of the suffering and entrapped Turkish woman, a key witness in both feminist critiques of patriarchy and liberal arguments for secular democracy.” Examples of this period of Turkish German cinema would be Helma Sanders-Brahms’s Shirin’s Wedding (1976), Yimaz Güney’s Baba (1971) and Hark Bohm’s Yasemin (1988). But it’s impossible not to mention Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974), when talking about the immigrant experience in Germany, especially for the fact that Fassbinder’s original intention was to call the film “All Turks are Called Ali”. But instead a Turkish protagonist, wanting to give the starring role to El Hadi ben Salem, a Moroccan immigrant, who was his lover at the time, it became Angst essen seele auf/Fear Eats the Soul. Faithfully borrowing the storyline of a classic Hollywood melodrama, All that Heaven Allows (1955, dir. Douglas Sirk), Fassbinder criticizes postwar racism as a continuation of the Nazi past and also reifying the stranger as an object of orientalist fascination, while playing with traditional gender roles. Emmi (played by Bridget Mira), an elderly cleaning woman, meets a good natured Moroccan guest worker, falls in love. Their improbable love is tested by racism and general social condemnation. There’s also a sexual politics and power dynamics at play. Just like many protagonists of the cinema of duty, Ali can be seen as the prime example of an enlightened victimology. But however invigorating and thought provoking New German Cinema movement appeared to be, its legacy, made up a handful of internationally revered auteurs, was overshadowed by its financial failure and the fact it was mostly ignored domestically in favor of commercially viable albeit mediocre films. With strong influence of private and public television companies and proliferation of home videos, the enthusiastic spirit of New German cinema had died out by mid-80s.

        What came after that was so called “cinema of consensus”, termed by scholar Eric Rentschler. He argued that the vast majority of German film productions in the nineties consisted of light fare meant to please and placate audiences. This trend toward uncomplicated storylines with agreeable resolutions was all the more prominent if one compared German cinema of the nineties with that of the seventies. Rentschler applauded New German Cinema directors who in the seventies “interrogated images of the past in the hope of refining memories and catalysing changes.” By contrast, Rentschler saw contemporary German cinema as lacking “oppositional energies and critical voices.” He mentions exception to this cinema of consensus, “offbeat voices and less reconciled visions” of directors like Tom Tykwer, Fatih Akin, Rosa von Praunheim, Ulrike Ottinger and Harrun Farocki, who made “less visible films with a historical ground, a post-national sensibility and a critical edge.”

Head_On_24
        Fatih Akin is the prime example when considering the shift in filmic sensibilities from “cinema of duty” to the “pleasures of hybridity” Born in Hamburg in 1973 to Turkish immigrant parents, Akin went to University of Fine Arts of Hamburg to study Visual Communications and graduated in 2000. He grew up watching countless films on VHS tapes, both Turkish and Hollywood cinema, professes his love for Scorsese. His debut feature, made while he was still in school, Kurz und schmerzlos (1998) was said to have “represented New German-Turkish Cinema.” His films contributed to a street culture known as Kanak - first used as a derogatory term for Turks and other Arab countries’ immigrants in Germany, later became a normal colloquial term for Turkish Germans and used as self-identification. His kinetic and visceral films, mostly concerning second generation of Turkish immigrants and bonds between immigrants from other countries living in Germany became a commercial and critical success. But it was his fourth feature Gegen die wand/Head-On (2004) that really pushed him to be the face of contemporary German cinema. It won numerous awards, including Golden Bear at Berlin Film Festival, Best Film and Audience Award at European Film Awards and Best Foreign Film at the National Board of Review in 2004, while directly dealing with the theme of the Turkish-German experience, albeit secular. It grossed 14 million USD at the box office. But when we talk about the perception and marketing of Fatih Akin in the German press, his films are treated as still the ones of cultural in-betweenness, not the cultural hybridity and transnationalism. Head-On follows heavily on the tradition of melodrama - explosion of emotions with larger than life characters. It deals with many of the societal taboos - sex, drugs and suicide that are normally seen as opposite in a traditional, family oriented, patriarchal immigrant community. The film is a head on collision with these familial concepts. It’s a fatalistic love story of two suicidal individuals who happen to be of Turkish descent. Cahit is a heavy drinking widower who crashes his car into a wall, and Sibel is a young woman who is trying to get away from her traditional, patriarchal Turkish German family by slitting her wrist. They meet at a mental hospital. Sibel has a proposition - she wants him to marry her in order to free herself from her traditional family. And because he is a Turk, they will consent. For this fake marriage, she will cook and clean the house and they can see other people in the meantime. After her dramatic second suicide attempt, Cahit gives in, and their strange romance starts. It’s Sibel’s presence in Cahit’s life that gives him meaning to continue living. But Cahit kills a man one day to protect the honor of Sibel and goes to jail and Sibel moves to Turkey to start a new life. And It’s her retreat to Turkey that ultimately connects Cahit to his forgotten Turkish roots for the first time.

        In the world of Head-On, Germany in mid-2000s, Hamburg to be exact, there are no Germans treating Cahit or Sibel any different because they are Turkish descent. Cahit doesn’t even speak Turkish very well. Only their names give away their backgrounds. In a funny scene, a German psychologist asks what the meaning of Cahit’s name is. Cahit, completely perplexed by the question, asks back why. The psychologist tells him that all “their” names mean something, something beautiful, deep and profound. Cahit tells the smiling doctor that he is completely nuts. Germany in 2000s is seen as secular, transnational society where Turkish Germans freely question the possibilities of simultaneous transnationalism and rootlessness.

        The Berlin School is perhaps the most significant film movement in Germany since the New German cinema of the 70s. The first wave of film directors it produced were Angela Schanelec, Christian Petzold and Thomas Arslan. First coined by film critic Merten Worthmann in describing Schanelec’s Passing Summer (2001) and later that same year by Rainer Gansera in his review of Arslan’s A Fine Day (2001), the Berlin School is loosely connected group of filmmakers (the second wave of Berlin School directors don’t necessarily come from DFFB) who are countering what mainstream German cinema has become - the cinema of consensus. Working in each other’s projects and constantly in communication through interviews and publications (Revolver - an influential film magazine, founded by the second wave directors of the movement, Christophe Hochäusler and Benjamin Heisenberg, which gave the Berlin School its further legitimization) in the industry. Their films are not easily defined and can’t be readily be explained with few words but the main theme these filmmakers are grappling with in the post-wall Germany is “sehnsucht” (longing)- a longing for Deutschland that never materialized under neoliberal capitalism. The Berlin School, in effect, is ‘reseeing’ Germany without being tied to its war past, without exploiting history. It’s the ‘here and now’ of unified Germany.

A Fine Day
        Thomas Arslan was born in 1962 in the north-central German city of Braunschweig, to Turkish immigrant parents. He went to an elementary school in Turkey, but lived his formative years in Germany, studying German literature and eventually ending up in DFFB: Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin/The German Film and TV Academy Berlin. He has said in interviews that Godard, Bresson and Rossellini’s works have influenced him. At a glance, by virtue of his ethnic background is cast as being concerned with the representation of (ethnic) identity. With nine feature films under his belt, he is best known for his later termed “Berlin Trilogy”- Brothers and Sisters, Dealer and A Fine Day, chronicling the lives of young Turkish Germans in Kreuzberg section of Berlin. I chose A Find Day (2001) because the first two of the trilogy might mark the shift from a ‘cinema of the affected’ to a ‘cinema of hybridity’, but their protagonists continue to “struggle with the similar problems as their predecessors in the Gastarbeiterkino,” whereas in A Fine Day, Deniz, its protagonist, at a glance, doesn’t seem to be afflicted with the immigrant’s blues. In the film, we follow Deniz, a young Turkish German woman living in Kreuzberg, Berlin, as she takes public transportation and walks around the town to meet her friends and family, to go to work, to get around in general. She navigates briskly and confidently around town. The film is devised as one day in the life of… story. She breaks up with her boyfriend, attends her job as a voice-over actress, does her laundry at her mother’s, hangs out with her successful architect sister who is briefly in town, lectures young neighborhood kanaks who whistled at her and starts flirting with a neighbor. Nothing dramatic happens. Everything is almost documentary-like. Yet, with deliberate camera movement, Deniz’s gaze, gestures and seemingly trivial things that are said in conversations, one can detect Deniz’s isolation and loneliness and explains many of the symptoms of integration problems the right wing politicians like to talk about after almost 60 years of assimilation. Even though it is the new millennium and the second or third generation Turkish Germans have gained their rights to their eventual citizenship, their identity, their sense of being German is shaky. Arslan simply demonstrates this fact in a single scene in the beginning of the film where Deniz breaks up with her German boyfriend - she walks into a cafe to meet her boyfriend. during their conversation, which is over the shoulder shot of Deniz, the camera dollies over to the other side of his shoulder, breaking the 180 degree law for coverage and completely changing the audience’s point of view of Deniz. Then the camera reverts back to the original position. Is she as confident as she presents herself? Are we seeing the other side of her? The whole reality is shaken. Her cosmopolitan existence may not be as solid as it presents itself to be. If not Deniz herself is struggling with traditions, it is shown through her Turkish mother’s dilemma - she is widowed a while ago. But to honor the memories of her late husband, she says she would never be in another relationship, even though Deniz reminds her that she is still young and can remarry. She chastises her mom for being old fashioned. Just like many of Arslan’s protagonists, Deniz hardly shows any emotions. There is something definitely missing in her life. Her rootlessness is shown in many different occasions throughout the film. Arslan cleverly suggests through her being an actress, that she can or pretends to be any body- Deniz is told to be a little more emotional when she is in a dubbing session, for Eric Rohmer’s Summer’s Tale, in German. Whatever she is yearning for, she tries to find it in other people. Her gaze is not that of romantic gaze in Rohmer movies. Her gaze is searching kind, trying to find a stability, in a place, in a person, in a culture.

        Like in Akin’s films, there is a solidarity among other immigrants, Deniz flirts with a young man from Spain. She might have some common understanding with the Spaniard, but she doesn’t find what she is looking for in him either. Arslan suggests in the smallest ways the fragility of the secularism for the Turks living in a supposedly cosmopolitan country. The fall of Berlin Wall in 1989 and difficulties of German reunification undermined the public commitment to diversity and gave way to a period of unprecedented rightwing violence that began with attacks on asylum seekers and contract workers. Then the violence of 9/11 and its worldwide reverberation – London and Madrid bombings, changed the dynamics again. I dare say that in a very subtle way, A Fine Day was not only reflective but prophetic in seeing these changes and uncertainties in German society.

        The Berlin School might be well known in festival circuits and film academia, but it shares not only the spirit of the New German Cinema but the burden of being a financial liability. An interview with Christoph Hochäusler reveals as much:

“Of course the implication of the label is sometimes harmful. For example, when it comes to financing a film I've heard many times that they say 'we don't want to finance the Berlin school films'. Because the industry is full of expectations - 'they (the Berlin school films) are too slow' or call it whatever else you can think of when you don't like something. So there is always a problem being labeled like that.”

        Both Akin and Arslan had made several other films since Head-On and A Fine Day. They have moved on from films with Turkish protagonists and expanded their palettes. Akin directed another acclaimed searing melodrama of forgiveness and redemption with Turkish protagonists in The Edge of Heaven (2007) and revenge thriller In the Fade (2017) with the international star Barbara Kreuger in the lead role who is avenging her Kurdish-German husband’s death in neo-nazi attack. Most recently he directed a serial killer movie based on a best selling novel, The Golden Glove (2019). Arslan, like the Berlin School comrades, namely Christian Petzold and Christoph Hochhäusler, delved into genre filmmaking. In the Shadows (2010) is his no nonsense thriller of the highest order, with an Eastern European hitman protagonist operating in Germany. Then he did a Western, Gold (2013), starring Nina Hoss, a Petzold regular, about German prospectors in British Columbia in the 19th century. Recently he did Bright Nights (2017) which was shot in Norway. It is about an Austrian man’s road trip to re-tracing his father’s past who just passed away.

        A lot has happened in the last two decades. Arab Spring, terror attacks, ISIS, Syria and its refugee crisis put a lot of pressure on European Union to reassess their immigration policies. We are living in an unprecedented political, economical, environmental crises world wide. The rise of nationalism in many European countries, including Germany can’t be ignored. The future seems all but uncertain. Germany has undoubtedly benefited from its Turkish immigrants, economically and culturally. But we are living in a different world than 20 years ago. If Akin reflected the pulse of the cosmopolitan spirit of 2000s Germany, Arslan showed the reflection of that fragile cosmopolitanism and somehow predicted its uncertain future.


Sources Consulted

Abel, Marco. The Counter-Cinema of the Berlin School. Boydell and Brewer, 2013: 31-78

Baute, Michael, Ekkhard Knrer, Volker Pantenberg, Stefan Pethke and Simon Rothhler. “The Berlin School - A Collage.” Senses of Cinema, Issue 55 (July 2010)
http://sensesofcinema.com/2010/feature-articles/the-berlin-school-%E2%80%93-a-collage-2/

Bennhold, Katrin. “Germany Has Been Unified for 30 Years. Its Identity Still Is Not,” New York Times, November 8, 2019

Gueneli, Berna. Fatih Akin's Cinema and the New Sound of Europe. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2019

Hake, Sabine, and Barbara Mennel, eds. Turkish German Cinema in the New Millennium: Sites, Sounds, and Screens. NEW YORK; OXFORD: Berghahn Books, 2014

Hoad, Phil, “Continental drift,” The Guardian, February 14. 2008. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2008/feb/15/worldcinema

Hochhäusler, Christoph “Interview: Christoph Hochhäusler On The Lives of Victors And Dangers Of Being Labeled.” by Dustin Chang, Screen Anarchy, April 13, 2015. Web Magazine. https://screenanarchy.com/2015/04/interview-christoph-hochhausler-on-the-lies-of-the-victors-and-dangers-of-being-labeled.html

Martin, James P. "Crossing Bridges/Crossing Cultures: The Films of Fatih Akin." South Atlantic Review, Vol.74, No. 2, 2009: 82-92

O’Brien, Mary-Elizabeth. Post-Wall German Cinema and National History: Utopianism and Dissent. Boydell and Brewer, 2012

Roy, Rajendra and Anke Leweke. The Berlin School: Films from the Berliner Schule. Museum of Modern Art, 2013

Takenag, Lara. “I Will Never Be German: Immigrants and Mixed-Race Families in Germany on the Struggle to Belong,” New York Times, November 8, 2019