How to come to terms with a past that’s built on painful war memories? This is an issue that quite a few documentaries as well as feature films have taken up and were part of this year’s Viennale program. The German feature film And Along Come Tourists (Am Ende kommen Touristen) and the US documentary The Cats of Mirikitani deal with this issue in two different, thought-provoking ways.
The Cats of Mirikitani begins like a simple video-portrait of a homeless, Japanese-American painter on the streets of New York. Filmmaker Linda Hattendorf meets octogenarian Jimmy Mirikitani in January 2001 on a corner in Soho — he’s ceaselessly drawing images from colorful cats to internment camps. The works speak of his past. After Pearl Harbor Jimmy Mirikitani was sent to an internment camp at Tule Lake, California, because of his Japanese-American background and was separated from his sister. It’s a cut into his life that leaves lasting marks. It’s the evening of September 11 in 2001, when the video-portrait takes a turn from a plain take on a quirky artist to a more engaging personal (hi)story. Linda Hattendorf invites Jimmy into her apartment so that he is not inhaling toxic fumes. The parallels between the aftermaths of Pearl Harbor and the racially motivated assaults on Arab-Americans after 9/11 soon become glaringly obvious, all while Hattendorf sticks to Jimmy’s story. She traces back some of his long lost relatives and tries to find a home for him. In the course of this Jimmy Mirikitani turns from a hurt old man holding a grudge against the US-system to a person whose wounds are finally healing and who ventures into a new, positive chapter in his life. Without force-feeding moral sermons, The Cats of Mirikitani is also a timely, poignant commentary on US-history and today’s state of the world.
Open wounds from WWII are also a theme in Robert Thalheim’s And Along Come Tourists. His story is set in today’s Oswiecim in Poland, better known as Auschwitz. Sven from Germany is anything but pleased when he ends up doing his civil service in Auschwitz. His duty is to look after and assist cantankerous Mr. Krzeminski, a former inmate of the concentration camp who still lives on the premises and gives talks as a witness to the horror. It is obvious how history burdens their relationship. Yet, Thalheim doesn’t opt for emotional relief — the two develop no harmonious relationship, it’s more a grasp and understanding for the other’s attitude that slowly evolves. By also introducing a local girl who falls in love with Sven, director Thalheim succeeds in enhancing a down-to-earth, every-day-life atmosphere. It’s this ordinariness that makes And Along Come Tourists unique: he tells a story set in the here and now in a place that is rooted in our heads in terms of its terrible history and thus moves on without forgetting the past.