What can I say, she’s walking away
From what we’ve seen
What can I do, still loving you
It’s all a dream
How can we hang on to a dream
How can it, will it be, the way it seems
— How Can We Hang on to a Dream, Tim Hardin (OST)
This is the earliest film I’ve seen from Petzold, made in 2000. It’s also the first of his ‘Ghosts’ Trilogy together with Gespenster (2005) and Yella (2007). Letterboxd shows eight more films from the director before this; some are short films. While the direct translation of ‘Die Innere Sicherheit’ is something like ‘Internal Security’, the English title of the film is ‘The State I am In’. At first, I thought the political connotation is lost in translation but then noticed ‘the state’. I remember trying to mention the film during a German class to the teacher the day after I watched it. Just instantly, she ridiculed me for the title I tried to pronounce. I thought the name evoked an example of the cheap crime fiction movies in the teacher’s mind. Maybe it was something different; I don’t know; I couldn’t say anything other than the film’s name in German, and I still can’t. Anyway, the IMDb has 2.6k votes for the film now, so I don’t expect to include the film in a daily conversation anymore.
It’s a ‘crime’ fiction where the crime is long gone. Jeanne and her parents run away from the police and the state due to their probably illegal leftist/terrorist background. In the plot, RAF is explicitly mentioned, but it’s not explicitly stated in the film. Probably, it’s an easy guess for the people who know the background.). The film opens with the family hiding in Portugal, and then they return to Germany hoping to fly somewhere they can feel safe again. They try to find money from ex-comrades or a hidden trove. When those don’t pay off, they try to rob a bank.
Around this story of running away, the film focuses on Jeanne. The adolescent daughter of the family becomes a fugitive at an early age. She’s out of the regular school education, learning a new language, and doing some translations, probably because she might need them soon. Her family buys or steals pretty oldskool and childish clothes -a loose yellow sweater with a bee on it- to her which makes her embarrassed. But she still has a solid love and trust in her parents. She’s in, with them. As a youngster en route, she has encounters with others, ones that compel her. She meets with a broke surfer guy who loves Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and falls in love with him. She stumbles a girl, the daughter of one of his parents, who listens to cool music and wears a blue t-shirt having ‘Diego Maradona’ on it. A couple of scenes later, Jeanne steals a blue t-shirt. Frances Meh captures Petzold’s interest in Jeanne, her family, and other characters in his films in a short comment on the film: “… you know it’s a Petzold joint. He just can’t turn his eye away from people in liminal states.”
Taking the family’s political history and the transformation of their ex-comrades as a backdrop, the film primarily focuses on Jeanne’s hardships while growing up in this constant fear and disguise. She acts way older than her actual age due to the circumstances which do not let her live like her peers. Sharing cigarettes and starting a conversation looks like to only way for her to socialize with strangers. She does the shopping, takes her role if there’s a secret plan, or even finds shelter for the family when necessary. At times, she says that she’s sick of everything. Falling in love also lets her guard down.
The film has some silent but striking scenes like Jeanne sitting at the table next to her mother with the money they stole; or the painful melodramatic breakup with the surfer guy -sorry I forgot his name- that was similar to Turkish melodramas – “I never loved you, you’re a pathetic and disgusting person”. Not to spoil it, I would avoid the intense final scene. But there was an even more interesting scene that stuck in my mind. While the family was running away on the empty highway, they stop for a moment at the traffic lights, and they start to suspect the movements of others. One guy gets out of the car to take a look around, there seem to be some other cars following the family. Jeanne’s father thinks they’re busted, gets out, and surrenders. Suddenly, when the lights turn light, everyone minds their own business. They hadn’t even noticed the runaway family. Maybe connected to Petzold’s interest in ‘ghosts’, this scene underlines the anxiety of running away together with being a ghost or nobody.
“This fraught drama about an ex-Red Army Faction-style couple, still on the run with their teenage daughter, doesn’t use a single flashback to narrate their past. The tension apparent in every frame speaks of the unseen state forces whose ‘domestic security’ was—and remains—their mortal opponent.” (Hertäg, 2022)
I wanted to take this long quote from Max Nelson in Film Comment which documents the opening scene because I also listened to one of Petzold’s interviews where he argues that in the first two minutes, the film’s morality shows itself:
“The first two minutes of The State I Am In go a long way towards explaining Petzold’s methods and intentions in the trilogy. A young girl with blonde, wind-tossed hair—eyes downcast, lips set in a natural frown—gets change at a seaside bar, strolls over to the jukebox, and puts on an American pop song (“How Can We Hang On to a Dream?” by Tim Hardin). The camera hovers on her shoulder, lingering over the curve of her neck, then pulls back slightly to follow her as she saunters with studied casualness towards an empty table. (“What can I say,” the singer asks plaintively: “she’s walking away…”) She glances off-camera, casts her eyes back down, lights a cigarette, and sits silently for another twenty seconds, lost in thought. Her eyes barely move; her mind is busy turning over invisible possibilities, considering options, and reflecting on a past to which we don’t yet have access. When she looks back up, Petzold cuts to a shot from her eyeline of a handful of surfers chatting at the other end of the dock, and her desire finally connects, in our mind, with an object. But it’s in those previous twenty seconds, I would argue, that she comes alive to us. For a moment, her desire seems to exist outside of, or prior to, the narrative that is about to be constructed around it. It would be hard to count the number of times over the course of the trilogy that Petzold films a young woman sitting alone like this, planning what kind of movie she wants to inhabit.”
Hertäg, J. (2022, May/June). Germany’s Counter-Cinemas. New Left Review, 135. https://newleftreview.org/issues/ii135/articles/julia-hertag-germany-s-counter-cinemas