L’état et moi / Der Staat und Ich / The State and Me (watched in Zukunft, as the only audience)
Some plot and tag lines about the film: “A composer named Hans List fought on the barricades of the Paris Commune in 1871. He now wakes up to a new life in the present, moving through Berlin-Mitte without identification” (IMDB), “An anarchic comedy on the origin of German criminal law.” (Berlinale).
It’s the first film I saw by Max Linz. Earlier films include Weitermachen Sanssouci (2019), Ich will mich nicht künstlich aufregen (2014). It was interesting to see it a couple of days after Blutsauger (2021). Their style is in no way similar, but the idea of building an absurd comedy out of history by molding it with the contemporary moment is a shared point of origin. Also, they both heavily lean on leftist tradition, Marx and labor, on the one hand, the Commune, and the law on the other. Maybe finally, both have dozens of meta-references to the history in the dialogues. I have no intention of comparing these two very different films, but I’m also curious if any ideological underpinnings are shared. Just after writing this part, I read Jutta Brendemuhl mentioned it together with the Berlin School discussion in a Berlinale review:
“Together with other (young, male) directors like Julian Radlmaier with his Berlinale 2021 Encounters film “Bloodsuckers: a Marxist Vampire Comedy” and debut “Self-Criticism of a Bourgeois Dog,” Max Linz might as well proclaim a new Berlin School for the 21st century — perhaps the Berlin School of Sophistic Entertainment. 22 years later, we have moved from Christian Petzold’s left-wing terrorism drama “The State I’m In” to the new formally composed reality of “The State and Me.” (Petzold producer Schramm Film are the producers of L’Etat et Moi.)”
Sophie Rois acts as the composer (or communist) Hans List, and the judge Josephine Praetorius-Camusot who takes charge in List’s trial. Right after the time travel, Hans List quickly commits petty crimes that can be interpreted as terroristic attacks, like throwing a cigarette toward a staff car and burning it. In time, the suspicion around Hans grows, and an advocate paired up with a clumsy intern starts chasing him. The director mentions Jerry Lewis and his film The Errand Boy (1961) as an inspiration and the courtroom movies as examples to avoid. I was thinking of the recent clumsy nephew Greg from the TV series Succession for the intern character. The extreme realist style of Succession looks like the anti-form of L’état et moi but the slapstick comedy of the characters, how they try to take part in a system that’s way larger than them, felt similar. These funny and awkward characters also function well to decipher and reveal the structures.
After some reading, the relation between The Paris Commune, the fictional German communist and composer Hans List (a reference to Hungarian composer Franz Liszt), and the following crime, law, and justice system parody didn’t add up clearly for me. The German Penal code, Strafgesetzbuch, was passed in the same year The Paris Commune seized power following the Franco-Prussian War. The director also briefly references Brecht’s The Days of the Commune, the 10th scene where Bismarck and Jules Favre meet in the Frankfurt Opera House. Also, in the last scene, the play ends with the following setting: “From the walls of Versailles the bourgeoisie watch the end of the Commune through lorgnettes and opera glasses.”  The director Max Linz mentions this ending as a potential start for his film, which gives a hint about the following scene:
Some scenes and details about the film that I still remember include the anti-tourist jokes, which look unrelated to the general plot but are still funny. In one of the opening scenes, the intern walks on the street with his suitcase with wheels. The musician woman hears the noise from the window and shouts something like, “Ahh, the tourists.” In the middle of the film, she’s practicing music on the roof of a building on Museum Island. They think of going somewhere to eat, and this time she complains about the lack of restaurants in the area, implying that the existing restaurants are only tourist decors. Berliner Schnauze.
Among the side roles, the security guard, with her love of the smoking ritual, shines like an unexpected role in a play that surprises the audience suddenly with just a couple of lines. I couldn’t find the name of the actress. The main character also rolls tobacco throughout the film, which intrigued me whether the film is interested in depicting some contemporary daily life in the city. The insistence on the slapstick comedy and the tongue twist of the communist/composer feels repetitive on the second and third time but becomes interesting after the fifth. A good example of consistency. The theater-like acting is really good, underlining the power relations at work: the senior and the apprentice, the commander and the aide, or between the two security guards.
Despite the ideological positioning and the questions the film was trying to pose were not that clear for me, it was a nice experience. A lot of fun and political references, inventive filmmaking, and very good acting. Maybe after I see Linz’s other films, I can return to this one again.
 Bertholt Brecht, The Days of the Commune (1949), digitalized by RevSocialist for SocialistStories, p. 126.
Further reading (for me):
- WAS TUT SICH – IM DEUTSCHEN FILM? // Zu Gast im Kino: Regisseur Max Linz mit L’ETAT ET MOI (2022): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhVWdCsVQBY