MOMA’s annual survey of recent films from Germany coincides with the anniversaries of the fall of the Berlin Wall (November 9, 1989) and Kristallnacht (November 9, 1938). It’s a suggestive bit of scheduling, even if the films don’t live up to the backdrop. Irmgard von zur Mühlen’s The Hitler Phenomenon-Deception and Reality is cobbled together from the home movies of Eva Braun and her intimates. The surreal shots of the stiff little Führer playing to the camera while Braun frolics are intercut with scenes from propaganda films and footage of atrocities; the end result is jarring enough to convey the Nazi obsession with production and control of images. Although this is familiar turf worth revisiting, The Hitler Phenomenon‘s main flaw isn’t lack of originality but its awkward tone; the film has unfortunately been saddled with an overly colloquial narration, which heaps smarmy opprobrium on Braun, as if her big-boned obliviousness were somehow the crowning, ironic outrage of WW II.
Meanwhile, Max Färberböck’s Aimee & Jaguar takes on a spunky, Jewish, lesbian spy in ’40s Berlin. Jaguar opens Titanic-style with a spiffy crone reminiscing about the raven-haired lover-of-life who won her heart during the war. The frothy film views its heroine with an exotic (and borderline softcore) eye and strains for ironic contrasts, as when a group of Jewish glamour dykes poses for nudie pinups destined for soldiers on the front.
Tina Ellerkamp and Jörg Heitman’s killer.berlin.com follows a group of Berliners playing the eponymous game, wherein each player is assigned another to “kill” while simultaneously trying to avoid their own assassin. These being the sort of hipster Germans lampooned in American beer adverts, the game escalates not to real murder and mayhem but to sonorous ruminations on architecture and the existential implications of “documentation.” One player observes, apropos of nothing, “When one documents oneself, one takes on a different relationship to oneself.” Christian Schmid’s 23 puts a similar high-tech hipster sensibility to more mundane but more successful uses, following a pre-Fall hacker who pranks the KGB with purported secrets and finds himself caught in a web of not-so-funny conspiracies. The overall effect is as slick and mindlessly digestible as a well-executed Stateside indie.
Andreas Kleinert’s Paths in the Night makes some admirable thriller power moves, but like many a film in this series becomes mired in the morass of history. A former East German dissident assembles a vigilante crew to bring discipline, community spirit, whatever, to the post-Unification streets. Robbed of relevancy by his suddenly free country, the protagonist soon descends into bully-boyism and theft. Paths paints a concise portrait of an old dog trying, but failing, to learn new tricks.
Similarly imbued with tragic ambiguity is Yilmaz Arslan’s Yara, about a German-Turkish girl trying to get back to Berlin after she’s shipped to her ancestral home by a conservative father and labeled insane by her Islamic family. The film suggests its heroine’s “madness” might be as legitimate a form of rebellion as her diagnosis is an outright tool of social control. Like Aimee & Jaguar, Yara isn’t quite the friend of women it wants to be, but it does take significant risks, which ironically make it the best “recent German film” on view.