Austrian director Feo Aladag’s deserved debut success with the award-winning Die Fremde, (When We Leave, which premiered here in the 2010 Panorama section) whet appetites for more thoughtfully observed interface between conscience, culture and commitment.
Returning in competition with Zwischen Welten (Inbetween Worlds) Aladag makes good on her initial promises with a tale of a German commanding officer Jesper (Ronald Zehrfeld) who responds to the death of his brother in Afghanistan by applying for a second tour of service with the German contingent of NATO ISAF (peacekeeping) forces. He’s posted to a remote village where he befriends his translator: a young man, a teacher with his own history of loss: a father killed by Taliban.
Filmed after a long period of personal preparation with Bundeswehr patrols, Aladag has pulled off a film that matches formal principle and plot in a reflection on military engagement that a majority of German voters have sanctioned. Shot in Afghanistan with German and Afghan actors, the movie achieves an authenticity far beyond the smoke and mirrors histrionics encountered in mainstream Hollywood. Film is a visual medium. Aladag works with images as a sign linguist would: uniforms are discomfort, desert is danger, closed spaces are claustrophobia. The film has weaknesses in an overly neat set-up of compromised combatants and didactic subtext on the role of women. On the whole, however, this is due investigative diligence used to express, more eloquently than a soldier’s scant use of speech, the bleached rigour of responsibility and choices that cost lives. ISAF is planning staged withdrawals from Afghanistan by the end of this year. This is an artist’s impression of what it will leave behind. And with German Federal President Joachim Gauck and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier both advocating a more pro-active (military) German stance this film is an important contribution to assessing the price of engagement.
The Stasi legacy is not exactly fresh flesh, cinematically speaking, but Annekatrin Hendel’s documentary Anderson has definitely turned it into something novel. In a Proustian attempt to dislodge memory, Hendel recreated the East Berlin kitchen from which Stasi IM (confidential informant) Sascha Anderson, himself a rock-star mover in dissident circles, betrayed his dissident hosts to East German authorities. Despite these elaborate measures, Anderson remains impervious, almost jocular in his rejection not of guilt, but of his inability to confront it. Is there a difference? There is, and Hendel the conscionable German puts her finger on it, accessing Anderson’s modus vivendi as an irrepressible survival instinct of costive cruelty. The inevitable roster of talking heads expounds on systems and individuals, but it's Hendel’s persistent questions and Anderson’s persistent evasions that form a strange moral vacuum at the centre of a disturbing document.
Zwischen Welten (Inbetween Worlds) screens Feb 12, 15:30 (Friedrichstadt-Palast), Feb 12, 19:30 (HdBF) and Feb 16, 15:30 (Berlinale Palast)
Anderson screens Feb 12, 14:30 (CineStar 7), Feb 13, 20:00 (CineStar 20:00)