Geisterstrudel im Walzertakt

Nach August Strindberg / Henrik Ibsen / Heinrich Heine: Gespenster, Deutsches Theater, Berlin (Regie: Sebastian Hartmann)

Von Sascha Krieger

Die Familie, so wollen es uns nicht nur Konservative gern einreden, sei die Keimzelle der Gesellschaft. Ja, das meinen sie positiv. Der Familienverbund, klassisch natürlich mit Vater (an erster Stelle zu nennen!), Mutter und Kind(ern), gilt traditionell als Ort der Geborgenheit, als kleinste erfolgreiche soziale Einheit, als Schule des Lebens und so weiter. man kann sie leider nicht mehr fragen, aber es ist nicht anzunehmen, dass Henrik Ibsen und August Strindberg diese Behauptungen unterschrieben hätten. Ihre Familienbilder sind eher düsterer Natur. Vor allem bei Ibsen ist die Familie Gefängnis, Unterdrückungsapparat, Traum- und Persönlichkeitskiller. In einer Zeit, in der die Gesellschaft nicht weniger dysfunktional erscheint als so manche Familie, ließe sich vielleicht die Keimzellenmetapher einer genaueren Prüfung unterziehen und subversiv auf den grotesk grinsenden Kopf stellen. So mag es sich Sebastian Hartmann gedacht haben, als er auf die Idee kam, seinen neuen Abend aus drei Texten zusammenzusetzen: Den Familienhorror entnimmt er Ibsens Gespenstern, in denen der Schatten des abwesenden Vaters die Mutter verleitet, dem Sohn so lange Erwartungen aufzubürden, bis er an diesen als Spiegelbild des Vater untergeht; und bei Strindbergs Der Vater, bei dem der Machtkampf zwischen Mann und Frau zur Anzweifelung einer Vaterschaft und dem kompletten Kollaps der familiären Fassade führt. Für die gesellschaftliche Ebene ist Heinrich Heines Deutschland. Ein Wintermärchen zuständig, in dem der Verstoßene im Traum seine deutsche Heimat be- und heimsucht und unter dem Gewicht jahrhundertealter Rollen- und Erwartungsbilder, Nationalklischees und kollektiver Traumata zusammenzubrechen droht.

Bild: Sascha Krieger

Bild: Sascha Krieger

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Auf brüchigem Seil

Heinrich von Kleist: Prinz Friedrich von Homburg, Berliner Ensemble (Regie: Claus Peymann)

Von Sascha Krieger

“Ein Traum, was sonst?” Wer Heinrich von Kleists letztes Stück inszenieren will, muss mit diesem Schlüsselsatz umgehen. Wie die finale Wendung zum vermeintlich Guten werten, wie den existenziellen Überlebenskampf, dem sich der Titelheld, Kriegsheld und Befehlsverweigerer, Schlachtsieger und zum Tode Verurteilter, ausgesetzt sieht. Claus Peymann, der mit Kleists dramatischem Schwanengesang selbst Abschied nimmt nach 18 Jahren Intendanz des Berliner Ensembles, beginnt den Abend als Traum und beendet ihn als Albtraum. Wie der Traum oft die Realität spiegelt und zugleich abstrahiert, ist Achim Freyers Bühne Referenz an die Welt des Wachens und gleichzeitig Vereinfachung, Skizze, Abstraktion. Eine schwarze Bühnenschräge wird zur existenziellen Rutschbahn, weiße Kreidestriche führen zu einem Fluchttpunkt im Bühnenhintergrund, eine Ordnung, die keine Abweichung und nur einen Ausgangspunkt (oder ein Ziel?) kennt, die Außenwelt eine gekritzelte Silhouette. Hier gibt es – wie in Freyers Kostümen – nur Schwarz und Weiß, aus dem der Traumtänzer, bei Peymann ein Seiltänzer, Prinz Homburg ausbricht. Mit blanker Brust, sozusagen ent-uniformiert, balanciert er über die Bühne, ein Stachel im Fleisch der rationalen Gesetzesgläubigkeit um ihn herum.

Bild: Monika Rittershaus

Bild: Monika Rittershaus

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Berlinale 2017: Final Thoughts

By Sascha Krieger

Two lonely people meet as a pair of deer in their dreams, they shyly explore each other and reluctantly fall in love, slowly beginning to crack their shells they’ve constructed to keep a hostile world out. Testről és lélekről, this year’s deserved Golden Bear winner is a fragile, poetic, deeply intimate celebration of the right to even the tiniest measure of private happiness. How do film makers respond to a world in crisis, to a rise in nationalism, hatred, racism, an erosion in fundamental democratic values all over the world, a shifting of certainties, a crumbling of foundations in liberal societies? If this year’s Berlinale is any indicator, the answer is two-fold: first, by focusing on the private, the individual fight for themselves, their happiness, their sanity. The best films in this edition’s competition belong to this category and find the political in the private: in a woman’s struggle for her son and her soul (Félicité), in the crisis of society’s cradle, the family (The PartyThe Dinner), in individual fights for dignity in which even the so-called “refugee crisis” finds place (Toivon tuolla puolen) or in a trans woman’s journey past hat and abuse (Una mujer fantástica). Others such as the only remarkable German entry Helle Nächte refuse the political sphere altogether.

Winner of the Golden Bear: Testről és lélekről (Image: Berlinale)

Winner of the Golden Bear: Testről és lélekről (Image: Berlinale)

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Berlinale 2017: Day 7

By Sascha Krieger

Return to Montauk (Competition / Germany, France, Ireland / Director: Volker Schlöndorff)

Max and Rebecca used to be in love years ago. Now Max, a successful novelist, returns to New Your City, where Rebecca has made a lot of money as a top lawyer. Max has written a book in which she’s heavily featured which doesn’t leave her cold. So she takes him on a trip to Montauk at the very end of Long Island. He wants to rekindle their love, she doesn’t. That’s the story which is peppered with motives of regret, lost love and the wish to rewrite the past, correct the wrongs, start over – the business of writing, of course. Stellan Skarsgård and Nina Hoss play the couple and they do so with a restrained routine that it shares with the entire film. Sure, Volker Schlöndorff can create a nice narrative flow and exquisite images that rely heavily on the strained and pained faces (the only interwsting performance is Susanne Wolff’s as Max’ loving and used current girlfriend). And of course. Schlöndorff and Colm Tóibín are fine story-tellers and perfectly capable of writing a good script. So where did it all go wrong? Maybe it was the dedication to Max Frisch, a hero of Schlöndorff’s that curtailed his creativity. For what we have here is a heavy-handed doomed love story meets artist drama meet sentimental looking back movie that’s full of meaningful looks, big lines and characterisation using the big brush. Everything is existential and turns out to be bland. Return to Montauk is what it would look like if Schlöndorff ever directed a Rosamunde Pilcher film.

Return to Montauk (Image: © Wild Bunch Germany 2017 / Ann Ray)

Return to Montauk (Image: © Wild Bunch Germany 2017 / Ann Ray)

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Berlinale 2017: Day 6

By Sascha Krieger

Toivon tuolla puolen (Competition / Finland, Germany / Director: Aki Kaurismäki)

A man leaves his wife and opens a restaurant. A Syrian refugee arrives on a coal ship. Two stories Aki Kaurismäki lets run parallel for the first half of this film. Which is a problem. The first of those stories is pure Kaurismäki: Stony, stoic faces, lightly darkish drab interiors, images as rigid and dry as his characters. The least spectacular leaving scene in film history starts a melancholy and drily funny story about people who don’t dare give up and who have hearts of gold beneath those faces of stone. Among Kaurismäki’s stories about the (sometimes not so) little man plodding on stoically to find a tiny little bit of happiness, this is an exemplary one. But there is a second one, that of Khaled from Aleppo. His narrative strand feels generic like an essay slash pamphlet about refugees caught in the mills of bureaucracy, more of a newspaper article than a film. When both strands are combined as the two men meet in a memorable scene, the film picks up speed. The driest of humour accompanies what is melancholic existential comedy meets adventure tale. it would have done the film much good to focus on these strangely easily meeting world s and leave out the bland social drama complete with a murderous Nazi gang. As it is, the film is a solid addition to Kaurismäki’s oeuvre but not more than that.

 (Image: Malla Hukkanen © Sputnik Oy)

Toivon tuolla puolen (Image: Malla Hukkanen © Sputnik Oy)

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Berlinale 2017: Day 5

By Sascha Krieger

The Party (Competition / United Kingdom / Director: Sally Potter)

A politician has just been promoted and is throwing a little afternoon party for her closest friends. This is the setting of Sally Potter’s aptly named film. Impeccable black and white leads the viewer into a cosy, comfortable upper middle class home, not too posh, not too shabby. The crisp cleanness of the imagery cannot hide the disaster that will soon unfold for very long. At the end of the 71 minutes the passing of which hardly goes noticed, a man has almost died, several relationships and friendships have collapsed, one may have been mended and a murder might well be about to be committed. In a fast-paced satirical comedy full of witty lines and characters that are better or worse at hiding their bruises and resentments, The Party feels like a vivisection on the body of the intellectual and reasonable middle class, a body that looks healthy from the outside (again, the carefully composed black and white frame do their purpose) but is riddled with cancer inside. Their subjects have spent so much time at keeping up appearances that substance has long given way. Is there any foundation left to these relationships or is the well-meaning world of those who profess to create a better world but might well be too caught up in their careers to not have lost sight of what’s true. Although: what is truth anyway? A question whose answer doesn’t appear that obvious. Not only here. A hilarious comedy and a devastating social miniature, The Party, performed by an exquisite cast, leaves a smile and a bitter taste. Oh, and the cast is great, too.

The Party (Image: © Adventure Pictures Limited 2017)

The Party (Image: © Adventure Pictures Limited 2017)

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Berlinale 2017: Day 4

By Sascha Krieger

Ceux qui font les révolutions à moitié n’ont fait que se creuser un tombeau (Generation 14plus / Canada / Director: Mathieu Denis, Simon Lavoie)

A three-hour film, formally and narratively challenging, featuring a 5-minute black screen opening and an “interlude” almost as long: placing this into the Berlinale’s Generation section is a fairly bold move. No doubt: this film challenges the attention level not only of younger audiences. On one hand, a highly theoretical essay on the necessity and futility of revolutions, it centers on a small revolutionary, one might also say: terrorist cell in modern-day Montréal with objectives somewhere between the anti-capitalist and the nationalist. The film has the feeling of a collage: realism follows symbolism, news footage is combined with music-only sequences, there are multi-layered narrative overlaps, theoretical soundbites and text boards, more confusing than structuring title cards scattered throughout the film, time is fluid, no change ever explained. At the centre is the group’s “headquarters”, a darkened, nocturnal, clattered cave-like house, that’s living quarters, art space and lab all at once. Changing but always somewhat encapsulating frame formats heighten the sense of claustrophobia and of people losing any touch with reality – when they are forced into contact, the resulting scenes are the film’s rather bland and clichéd weak spots. For most of the time, this is a challenging, multi-faceted exploration of youthful rebellion, an examination of a society in paralysis, observed through the eyes of not very objective outsiders, a journey underground to society’s underbelly of lost ideals and the despair of a failing desire to change the world. A music-driven elegy, distant and close, a painting, human beings between isolation and a bond that supports and holds back. In long scenes the camera follows the characters around on their paths. Lonely, dark, uncertain. They lead nowhere, so at the very end when the everlasting barrage of theory and appeals stops, when light comes in, this spells a glimmer of hope. Hope for another way. For this has ended in a dead end.

Ceux qui font les révolutions à moitié n'ont fait que se creuser un tombeau (Image: © Eva-Maude T-Champoux)

Ceux qui font les révolutions à moitié n’ont fait que se creuser un tombeau (Image: © Eva-Maude T-Champoux)

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Berlinale 2017: Day 3

By Sascha Krieger

Wilde Maus  (Competition / Austria / Director: Josef Hader)

Georg is a respected and feared music critic at a Vienna newspaper, filled with all the contempt and cynicism of Vienna intellectuals (think intellectuals anywhere and multiply by two, on a good day) when he loses his job due to the paper needing to save money. Robbed of the main source of his self.confidence, the middle-aged man hides the truth from his wife and embarks on a more and more bizarre revenge trip against his former boss which soon turns into a high-stakes – and high comedy – cat and mouse game as the victim soon suspects who’s behind the vandalism campaign. Meanwhile, Georg’s wife Johanna is going through a midlife crisis, Georg bumps into an old school bully who also loses his job, Johanna, a psychiatrist, develops a strange relationship with a gay patient who in turn is no stranger to Georg’s boss. Part revenge comedy, part satire about the difficulty to marry modern self-fulfilment requirements to healthy relationships, Wilde Maus is the brain child of Austrian author, actor and comedian Josef Hader whose biting and often quite dark humour is on full though somewhat moderate display here. What could have been a high-speed grotesque comedy is more of a witty, yet not to destructive conversation piece that relies more on comedic nuggets such as an insane chase in the snow involving an almost naked Hader, than on biting social comedy. Its speed is modest which serves the characters – apart from Hader, Pia Hierzegger’s frustrated wife and Georg Friedrich’s hilarious bully turned friend need mentioning – well. They are well-rounded creatures full of life yet bizarre enough to cause enough laughter. After all, the modern hamster wheel of self-fulfilment is bizarre in nature. As it is, Wilde Maus, is a well constructed though somewhat conventionally TV-style filmed entertaining feast of highly precise satire that could have been a little sharper. Only the harmless and unimaginative ending spoils the fun a little bit.

Wilde Maus (Image: © WEGA Film)

Wilde Maus (Image: © WEGA Film)

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Berlinale 2017: Day 2

By Sascha Krieger

T2 Trainspotting (Out of Competition / United Kingdom / Director: Danny Boyle)

“You’re a tourist to your youth”, Simon says to Mark at one point during this sequel to Danny Boyle’s early 1990s cult classic, accusing his former best friend of nostalgia. The trouble is: The same accusation could be made against the film. Sure, the gang of more or less deranged characters is back, so are the fast edits, psychedelic visual effects and pumping music. Gone, however, is the youth culture this once tied into. That’s forgiveable, after all, the four (ex-)junkies are all in their mid-forties now. But what to replace it with? Nostalgia, mainly. T2 Trainspotting is full of archival footage, aimed at contrasting the then and now. Which is hard if the story seems like a rather lazy rehashing of the key elements of original plot. At its end, Mark (Ewan McGregor) left his friend with the money from a heist. This time there, obviously, is revenge, more drugs and more betrayal. The characters have grown but not grown up, yet, obviously the original sarcasm cannot stand. After all, at their age, this is the last chance. So, in the end we get a sense of, if not redemption, then at least lessons learned and doors opening. This makes the once hip aesthetics seem as out-of-place as the characters and the strained action sequences and stale dramatics. It would be one thing to show the old boys pathetically trying to be back at their game – it is quite another for Danny Boyle to do this. Sure, the characters are strong enough to make the original film’s fans glad to see them again, yes, there’s plenty of hilarious humour, yes, there are nice allusions to age, its demands, its price, its ridiculousness. Substance, however, there is much less.

T2 Trainspotting (Image: © Sony Pictures Releasing GmbH)

T2 Trainspotting (Image: © Sony Pictures Releasing GmbH)

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Berlinale 2017: Day 1

By Sascha Krieger

Django  (Competition / France / Directors: Etienne Comar)

The beginning sets the tone. Before we meet the film’s protagonist, famed jazz pioneer Django Reinhardt, the film takes us into the Ardennes in 1943. An old gypsy sings, the group is ambushed, people are killed. The killers are not seen but very much present in the next scene. Django and his band play in Paris, the room is filled with German officers. Django is no simple biopic. It follows Django through those pivotal two years from his refusal to tour Germany until the end of the war. Musical scenes anchor the film – the wild “gypsy jazz” Reinhardt became famous for, a watered-down version to please the taste of the German occupiers, and the requiem he wrote for the gypsy victims of the Nazi regime. But the mood remains timid, the “gypsy swing” finds no expression in narration or imagery. For most of its two hours, Django is a rather conventionally told film littered with plenty of clichés, filled with quiet, dark, earthy images. It has its specific look but it never takes flight. Reda Kateb’s Django is as subdued as the film that contrasts uneasily with the energy of the music. The character remains vague and pale. We do not get a clear view of him although all indications are that we should. Not quite a biopic and not really a music film, Django remains also in an artistic no man’s land but may serve well as a starting point for exploration of its history as well for discovering Django Reinhardt’s music. It could certainly be worse.

Django (Image: © Roger Arpajou)

Django (Image: © Roger Arpajou)

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