Posts Tagged ‘Germany


Das Weisse Band (2009)

While some haters seem to think Michael Haneke is an over-pretentious, academic filmmaker who keeps ‘fooling’ everyone with movies that never actually come out and say anything or characters who act without explanation, I am of the opinion that the man is making quality films. He has a voice, however stoic, and he makes a powerful statement (while also allowing you to formulate your own).

I recently came across this post by John August, in response to David Mamet‘s long-standing pronouncement that films cannot successfully maintain a ‘message’ and simultaneously be entertaining. Or rather, films lose their (entertainment) value when the filmmaker pushes a message. According to Mamet (who I admire highly and will not refrain from gushing that I shook hands with after seeing a preview of Race last December), it is all about story; To purposefully make your movie “about something important” makes it not about the story, and therefore a lesser story.

While I can see the logic in this, I will also choose not to agree with all those people who think Haneke is doing this. I think he’s smarter than that. The man is giving you a story; in genre terms the film plays out like a mystery (in the same way that Funny Games would be, in the hands of another filmmaker, simply classified as a horror film). Specifically, we see, in (digitally manipulated) black-and-white, a period-piece about a small, rural village immediately before the outbreak of World War I (which subsequently led to the formation and rise of the Nazi party). Bad stuff happens in this village, because…well, you have to draw your own conclusions about that. To take the interpretative leap that this is a movie “about” Nazi Germany, or that it is a condemnation of strict religious communities is too simplistic. Haneke even says as much in interviews.

If you simply watch for the story, as most people will be doing in the course of the film, you will be drawn along wanting to know whodunit; who is responsible for the various acts that have transpired? The characters want to know. You want to know what the characters want to know. But, as anyone familiar with Haneke will no doubt know (or remember, as I did, after the story closes), that the story does not end with the end of the film. This film is “about” a specific group of people who make choices based on the options their particular society affords them. If one chooses to draw parallels with a historically adjacent society (Nazi Germany) or our own present-day rising social pockets of religious fundamentalism (Christian, Muslim, etc.), so be it. You bring what you know to the story. A good storyteller knows that.

I hesitate to contradict Mamet here, but if some filmmakers, as many have said, simply tell the same story over and over in a different way, Haneke is surely one of those filmmakers. Only his point is not a “message” per se, as much as an extension of the story outside of itself. As with great literature (I read somewhere that this film feels like it is an adaptation of some forgotten masterpiece of a novel, despite being an original work), the story serves a higher purpose than to simply entertain in the moment. I’m not sure if I’m contradicting Mamet or expanding upon his definition. Haneke is not so much pushing for the delivery of a particular message, as he is pushing for thought. If the film is working correctly (and I suppose even within Mamet’s ‘rule’), this thought comes not from some “message” pushed outward, but the viewer’s inward exploration of the psychology of the character(s). This command of attention is rare in Cinema and should be applauded, especially when done within the context of a specific story. This is the power of Haneke’s films; he asks us to apply the story to our own personal sense of the world. I guess that makes the movie a bit of a fable. Fables are merely lessons shrouded in entertainment. So, I guess I’m saying I either don’t agree with Mamet, or I don’t quite understand what he’s getting at…

SO, I’ve managed to ramble on in vagaries without giving you much of an idea of the film. Good. This will be winning the Best Foreign Language Oscar next Sunday, as it won the Palme D’or at Cannes last May. If any of this doesn’t give you enough reason to see it, then, well, you’ll just be missing out on a good story. And the chance to think about your own.


Die Dritte Generation (1979)

drittegenerationI finally watched this late Fassbinder a few weeks ago and took some screenshots in anticipation of writing about it. Now, I’m not so sure I have anything worthwhile to say (that isn’t already more succinctly put here), but at least I’m making use of the stills…

I can remember trading for some Fassbinder on VHS toward the end of my VHS-by-mail trading career (this was in the late 90s, if you care). A particular collector graced me with Chinese Roulette (still a favorite), Satan’s Brew, and a couple of others I can’t seem to recall right now. I had asked about this film as well, but he cautioned me that, in my limited number of choices (movies were traded 1 for 1, after all), this film was not necessarily a good place to start with Fassbinder. I agree.
The Third Generation is definitely more complex politically than some of his other films, though ultimately a lesser work of his comparatively (in my perhaps incorrect opinion). Perhaps, if one is to believe Juliane Lorenz in her interview on the DVD, he was less interested in this one than she was, especially after his related documentary Germany in Autumn.
The idea is an interesting one; it’s a satire of the upcoming generation of radical-liberals who say they continue to use terrorism in the name of social justice, but really seem to do it to satiate their boredom and utter lack of purpose in the world (or more sinisterly, as the film alludes to, as mere pawns to the machinations of corporate company controls). This is probably a gross oversimplification of the intent of the film, but it is a curious one nonetheless, having been made after the height of the Red Army Faction‘s (so-called ‘second generation’) attacks within Germany. Seen within this current context, this is a radically controversial film. It is also, apparently, one that is also frequently misunderstood (like A Clockwork Orange, though perhaps on a smaller scale?, there have been claims that this film has been sorely misunderstood by some to be in sympathy with this so-called third generation reality). Having seen enough Fassbinder, I’m fairly certain people are mistaking sympathy for a kind of economic mourning.


There are sublities to this film that I don’t understand: both cinematic, in the references to Bresson that I’m not smart enough to synthesize (right now or later), especially in featuring The Devil, Probably within the film; and political, that have to do with the situation in the East and West Germany of the time.
It would be foolish of me to try to make any sort of relevant analogy with our current state of terrorism, though it is interesting that the fact that as a subject of satire the film presupposes the need for some sort of comment on its widespread acceptance as the state-of-things in Europe at the time.
Fassbinder and crew layout the workings of a farce-like satire, then throw the results in our face with a brutal, senseless killing and a kidnapping that is alluded to be more beneficial for the kidnapped than the kidnappers….

dritte_kaufmannThere are pieces here that work, such as the scene with Gunther Kaufmann (standing in for RWF’s usual Franz Walsch alias character) trying to find honest work using his years of military training in explosives. He (through Fassbinder) does ask a question relevant to all new civilians of  societies-in-war: “What am I supposed to do now?” Fassbinder, of course, has him (rather whimsically) join a band of terrorists who need stuff blown up.

However, there is a lot in this film that just doesn’t work (for me at least). Lorenz speaks about the actual kidnapping scene which was apparently not planned by Fassbinder (also one of the most out-of-place action-oriented ones), in which terrorists prance around in clown-like outfits shooting and throwing firecrackers. Perhaps it was intended to be absurdly ironic, but it just comes off as cheap provocation.
For a man who has a gift for social commentary (absurdist or not), I was disappointed in this film, though I appreciate its boldness. I learned well before this film to proceed cautiously with Fassbinder. You can’t fault a man who made over 40 films in 16 years (not even including countless plays and other works). I heartily recommend Fox and His Friends or Ali: Fear Eats the Soul to anyone; Chinese Roulette, The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant, and Fear of Fear to some; and Martha to those select few who are giddy for Douglas Sirk psychodrama amped up to 11. And those are just some of the best that I’ve already seen…


featured Short film (9 min)

Blue Shining (Richard Vezina, 2015)

great scene from a great film

Sullivan's Travels (Preston Sturges, 1941)

June 2023