"The Elementary Particles": Settling Accounts with the Generation 68 or How Leftwing Sex-Maniacs Deformed Their Children By Angelika Kettelhack

in 56th Berlinale

by Angelika Kettelhack

Oskar Roehler casts a sly glance at Houellebecq’s literary shocker The Elementary Particles (Elementarteilchen) which by breaking nearly all taboos became a cult book for the new millennium. Roehler, whose films till now were marked by precariousness and obscenity like in No Place To Go (Die Unberührbare, 1999) or in Angst (Der alte Affe Angst, 2002) wants to be successful in changing the cult book into a filmic provocation.

Bruno (Moritz Bleibtreu) and Michael (Christian Ulmen), both thirty-something half-brothers who never met as children could not be more different: Bruno is teaching literature at a high school in Berlin. He fails as a writer, a husband and a father. He is sexually attracted to nearly every female student. After he goes too far with his best pupil and only earns a strict rejection he checks himself into a psychiatric clinic.

There he tells his doctor (Corinna Harfouch) how in the 60th and 70th his promiscuous and independent hippie mother (Nina Hoss) left him alone through his puberty. And to what degree he was stunned and provoked as a teenager in the same time by the fatal sexual attraction of his mother. But his unreliable mother left both sons behind to their respective grandparents while she went to Poona. Poona is only one example for the immense number of clichés and stereotypes that both, the author and the director, use for characterizing the 68-mothers, who in the eyes of Houellebecq and Roehler did not want to take over any responsibility for their children.

No wonder that her second son Michael, who has to stay with his grandparents, is also a case for a psychiatrist. But as he is working as an efficient genetic research scientist, he is protected by his university surroundings. So it is not so obvious that he is not fit for an every-day-life. At least he bothers nobody because he spends all his energy on his work in order to reproduce a human genotype that could put an end to natural reproduction. By his discovery there will be no more burdensome sexual intercourse. And by the way, he himself is supporting his own scientific researches in keeping away from women: Though he is in his mid-thirties he has never practiced love.

Bruno and Michael are the two identities who possibly tear apart characters like Houellebecq and Roehler. And certainly not only them. So far so good. But why am I so full of anger after watching this film? At first hand there is no obvious reason. It is a rare well made picture with a bewitching and a charming camera (Carl-Friedrich Koschnick), a far flung music and sequences of an exquisite density. There is a conglomeration of top actors, all first rank of the last year’s German cinema.

Franka Potente, restrained and sensible, loves Michael since childhood and cures him later in the film from his troubled feelings. And then the wonderful Moritz Bleibtreu, an example of constant transformation as a player, acting from tender to embarrassed, from vulnerable to bewildered. He really deserved the Silver Bear for best actor. Not to forget the divine Martina Gedeck with her economical gestures and her face that is like a mirror of shyness and passion at the same time and above all her secret understanding with the spectator. She is perfectly in touch with the longing of Bruno. I am afraid there is no better translation than longing for the German word Sehnsucht.

My rage is caused by the superficiality, shallowness and arrogance with which these children of the 68-generation are putting their parents in an exposed position. Houellebecq and Roehler, both grown up with grandparents, make their mothers responsible for every kind of failure. What about the fathers? Did they not exist any more like in many families after Word War II, the time when the parents were children and all the education had to be done by the widow mothers?

In 1968 obviously the fathers were no longer phantoms. In the film Bruno is visiting his father, played like a monster by Uwe Ochsenknecht, who has a lot of compassion for himself but none at all for his son. As a former medical man he even asks his son to lend him money. Nice responsibility!

I do not know any other generation in the western post-war-Germany, who with the creation of the so called “Kinderläden” established the opposition of those institutions that took children into custody, and tried to overcome the former collective and madly bent education methods of the Nazi era. The first post-war-generation invested, as soon as becoming parents, all their strength and power in teaching their children to walk upright. And I do not know any other generation, who without being guilty itself took over (standing on the shoulders of their numerous Nazi-supporting parents) the responsibility for the faults of the next generation.

It is not hundred years ago, but only 30 to 37 years that women and men fought for the equal rights of each individual. How would it be possible today that young women have the same professional possibilities like men? And how come that a queer former minister is forgetting that only thanks to the 68-generation and its fights he is allowed to discuss his coming out officially and in public without being put to prison or finding himself in a concentration camp like in the Nazi era. The so called Alt-Achtundsechziger made all this happen not very long ago. A little more respect would be a lot better than slandering and defamation.