I’ve been terribly remiss about posting my responses to the movies I see, and since I’ve found that to be useful when arguing with friends with different movie tastes, I’m going to try to catch up.
So, the most distant—and thus, I fear, most forgotten—is What To Do in Case of Fire
, which I saw at the Varsity the first week in January. (Yesterday I noticed they had the DVD at my local video store when I ran down there at 10 p.m. desperate for the second and third bits of Smiley’s People
, which I had made the bad mistake—getting-things-done-wise—to start watching earlier in the evening.)
I don’t speak German, I’ve spent very little time there (a Christmas/New Year vacation back in the early ‘80s when I went with my then-girlfriend to visit her German family [her mother left just after the war, leaving behind her parents and siblings], and a day or maybe two when I accompanied 40 Spanish villagers on a three-week coach ride from Madrid to Oslo), and until a couple of years ago, I didn’t care for German movies. The only ones I can remember seeing were at the film festival, and they always seemed to involve an attractive straight man finding himself in the middle of a group of gay men who fall over themselves trying to bed him, or prejudiced policemen having to disguise themselves as gay men so they can solve a crime. Along came Tom Tykwer and I softened (yes, Run Lola Run
is exciting and innovative, but my favorite of his movies is The Princess and the Warrior
Then in the last couple of years, a few movies that, broadly speaking, look at the politics of the East/West division or examine the adjustment of Communist and anarchist radicals after the fall of the Berlin Wall made it to Seattle, and my attitude changed completely: Now I actively seek out contemporary German movies. The first such film that comes to mind is The Legend of Rita
, Volker Schlöndorff’s portrait of a radical full of joie de terreur
(she attends bomb camp in Lebanon and kills for the cause) who flees the West for the revolutionary idyll of East Germany, a place where she’s miserable and her life is horribly proscribed, until the fall of the Wall, when she … well, let’s just say things don’t quite work out for Rita. Schlöndorff is slightly condescending to the political faithful—as I recall there’s some suggestion that Rita was driven as much by her taste for revolutionary nookie as by her commitment to the cause—but it’s a thoughtful film that’s not entirely dismissive of the notion of living your convictions, no matter how extreme.
Next was No Place To Go
, one of those movies that I sense I’m only appreciating a tiny portion of just because although I know a bit of the back story, I don’t really have the context to understand it fully. No Place To Go
shows the final few months in the life of a German writer who had been successful in the ‘60s, and who, despite her love of beautiful, expensive things (she’s broke but her apartment is incredibly stylish and she spends her last marks on a divine designer outfit), maintains that she despises the petty bourgeois Western lifestyle and is committed to “real socialism.” When the Berlin Wall comes down, she feels ideologically adrift, moves to Berlin, bugs her son and his wife, drives her East German publisher crazy, and ends up wandering drunk and more than a little crazy into an East German village where all her illusions about living under socialism are shattered. The director, Oskar Röhler, is the son of the writer Gisela Elsner, whose biography, according to this
site bears a huge resemblance to the movie’s main protagonist.
And now, coming full circle to What To Do in Case of Fire
, which is definitely lighter fare than Rita
or No Place To Go
. (It really does complete the circle because sexy anarchist Tim is played by Til Schweiger, who was the star of one of those straight men in gayville movies I mentioned at the top—1994’s Maybe, Maybe Not
.) Six former members of an ‘80s commune/radical AV club reunite at their old squat when a bomb they planted more than a decade ago explodes and they scramble to retrieve a piece of evidence from police custody. Two of the group are still living the anarchist protester squatter lifestyle—though the block’s now empty and the landlord is desperate to evict them—one’s a single mom, and the other three are yuppies. After the initial setup, the film veers between a daft comedy caper and a serious examination of the triumph of capitalism. At the end, they conclude that the war is no longer between left and right but rather between the winners and the poor slobs who refused to sell out, whichever side they used to be on.
These are tricky times for philosophical comedies about terrorists, albeit well-meaning nonviolent ones (a comment
on the Internet Movie Database takes reasonable issues with the movie’s premise because “a terrorist is still a terrorist”), but since that’s what it took to bring other characters into the mix (an old police adversary, for example, has more in common with the former freedom fighters than he does with a young colleague who’s obsessed with computers and public relations), I didn’t mind.