How New is New German Cinema ?

in 36th FilmFest Munich

by Jan Storø

The section New German Cinema consisted of sixteen films. I have taken a special interest in those made by the youngest film makers. Nine of the films were made by directors born in the 1980s. Three of them are female directors, six of them are male.

I asked myself, what topics are these young directors interested in, and how have they worked with these topics?

The feature “A Young Man With High Potential” by Linus de Paoli, born in 1982, starts by presenting a young man devoted to his work and his computers. The main furniture in his living room is a large table with many computers. But he does not have a sofa where guest can sit down. Probably because he never, or rarely, receives guests. We sense the loneliness of an intelligent social retard who doesn’t socialize with other people unless he has to. Eventually a young woman appears in his life. But she disappears, and much of the film tells the story of what happens to her. The film turns out to be a crime drama – with a touch of comedy.

Henning Gronkowski, born in 1988, has made a feature with a documentary feeling to it. The film is called “Yung”. In this film we meet four young women in Berlin. They are all quite heavily into a life of drugs and sex (some of it paid sex). They explain in “interviews” why they have chosen this type of life. And we witness it all. This type of life is a cruel one, but we also see the friendship between them. They take care of each other, but we sense that their situation cannot last as it is.

“The bees and the birds” (Von Bienen und Blumen) by Lola Randl, born in 1980, is presented as a documentary but seems to me partly orchestrated. It tells about Randl herself, and her friends and family. They move from Berlin to a rural area to live a simple life in the countryside. We are also introduced to Lola’s wish to have two lovers, forming a somewhat unusual family.

“All good” (Alles ist gut)  by Eva Trobisch, born in 1983, is a feature. In this film, the protagonist – Janne – experiences forced sex with a former school mate. She offers him to sleep on the couch after a reunion party because he has a long way home. She decides not to talk about it to anyone. This decision turns out to be increasingly problematic for her. During the film we are presented to other characters and their difficulties in their relationships to partners as well.  

Another feature is named “The New End” (Ende neu). It is made by Leonel Dietsche, born in 1985. We are brought into a near future society solely populated by men. In the first sequences we witness a hierarchical society built on survival of the fittest – or maybe clearer: the strongest. It is obvious that the world as we know it more or less has broken down. Everyday life consists of both primitive elements (mostly visible by the lack of rules and regulations) and remainings from a more technically developed past. Then we are presented to two women who live remotely by themselves. The women are discovered, and one of them is captured by some of the men.

“Safari – Match me if you can” is a feature by Rudi Gaul, born in 1982. In this film we follow several characters on their strive to find a partner via a dating app called Safari. The story takes place in Munich. We soon learn that several of the characters fool themselves in the search for a partner. Gaul tells this story with a smile.

Katinka Narjes’ feature is called “Sirens” (Nixen). She was born in 1982. This is the story about two sisters, closely connected to each other in a sisterhood that not always is sound. One of them is about to break up from her boyfriend. The other one is a single mother. They both work at the same café. In Narjes’ film we follow this drama as it develops, and we are left with a feeling that it might not turn out well for the sisters.

The feature “Right Here Right Now” (So was von da) is made by Jakob Lass, born in 1981. Here, we are witnessing 24 hours in the life of Oskar and his friends. We are in Hamburg’s St. Pauli district were Oskar runs a worn down club. We take part in the demolition party of the club. It is new year’s eve and the next morning. Many smaller and larger crisis appear, but the party goes on.

“Everything Always All the Time” (Kim hat einen Penis)  is the name of the feature made by Philipp Eichholtz, born in 1982. The original title of this film explains the story more explicitly than the English title: “Kim hat einen Penis” (Kim has a penis). In the very first scene the young female pilot Kim walks in to a surgeon clinic in Switzerland that offers its customers to change gender – or more accurate: to get the opposite gender’s genitals. She signs for the surgery to be done the same day. Andreas, who lives with Kim, has not been asked, and reacts naturally with mixed feelings when he finds out. The film tells the story about how their relationship develops after this. And we also meet some of their friends with problems in their love life. The film is a comedy, with a romantic touch to it.

The topics of these nine films vary quite extensively. But we can trace some similarities – and some differences. The most obvious topic that all these films touches on is the relationship between men and women. But in very different ways. Some of the films also touch on love and sex between same-gender characters.

Trobisch’s film (“All Good”) is the only of the films that dives deeply into the feelings of its characters. This film is maybe also the film that most clearly is taking on the task to tell a story about a topic that is much debated in today’s society. Sexual harassment of women is one of the most prolific topics of the last year.

The directors of several of the other films have chosen a more humoristic angel to the story they are telling. Both Eichholtz and Gaul discusses modern variations of modern life, and deal with Internet dating and gender transitions in the stories they tell.

Most of these young directors are not explicitly critical to their societies. Exceptions to this is first and foremost shown by Randl and Trobisch. But both of them treat their topics on an individual level. Randl gives us a lighthearted back-to-nature-story, with a certain self-ironic twist. Trobisch is, as mentioned, more distinct in her address to her public.

In several of the films music is used in a rather distinct way. Most obviously Gronkowski, Lass and Dietsche puts music in the very forefront of their films. The two first ones tell us about a nightlife with large amounts of alcohol and drugs. The soundtrack is powerful and ever present. We are drawn into the swirling night life and the shadow side of this type of life is clearly visible. But both films also tell about friendships between people living on the margins. Dietsche’s film also gives us a few scenes of a similar character, but here the function of the musical score is largely different. It is mixed in a way that paints the images very distinctively.

Many of these films are quite distinct in their esthetic presentation. The use of music is mentioned. Another issue is how the images of several of the films are colored. Dietsche’s film is dark and grey. Gaul, Narjes, and to some extent Eichholtz have chosen to use strong colors in a very striking way.

We do not find the distinct political film in this selection, even if several of them touch on politically central question in today’s society. But the film makers seems largely not be eager to contribute to debates on their topics, with Trobisch as an exception to this.

The topics of these films are not specifically connected to the German society. They could just as well be treated in films from other countries. This could be seen as a statement of film in our time, namely as a global form of communication. But it can also have to do with a wish from the filmmakers to be widely distributed.

Maybe it is fair to say that these filmmakers are more global than local in their topics, that the esthetic dimension of their work is important for them, and that they are more interested in people than politics.

Jan Storø