Germany’s Counter-Cinemas, Julia Hertäg (Notes)

I took some notes from Julia Hertäg’s “Germany’s Counter-Cinemas” article published in New Left Review. All the quotations in the notes are from the article:

Hertäg, J. (2022, May/June). Germany’s Counter-Cinemas. New Left Review, 135.

Germany’s Counter-Cinemas

The author gives examples of the export-driven cinema in Germany with the films about coming to terms with its past, containing films about Nazism, the Stasi, the fall of the GDR, and the Red Army Faction. The style: “conventional, Hollywood-style cinematographical narratives” [1] Following the mainstream style conventions, one difference is that these films are partially state/publicly funded. Some quotes about the consequences: films that “stay inside a corset of conventional narrative” or “cineastic low-fat quark”.

Machinery of consensus

Referring to the Oberhausen Manifesto in 1962, which called for free filmmaking for the artists. In the late 1960s, following France’s model, the state started to fund films for their cultural value. Artists whose early works were funded by ZDF or ARD: Fassbinder, Reitz, Kluge, Farocki.

In the 1990s, the competition for a larger audience starts instead of striving for cultural prestige. Meanwhile, the power of ZDF/ARD bureaucracies increases. In general, the films needed state funds together with TV channel co-production. The factors: “in addition to cultural and aesthetic criteria, potential commercial success and promoting the ‘positive development of the industry’ should be key factors in the allocation of funds”. The political/ideological influence comes from the responsibility of the state-TV channels to serve the ‘public interest.’ How do you define it?

The film-funding machinery works, but it is not easy for non-mainstream cinema producers to get into it since it’s against free filmmaking – does that exist anyways? On average, the films have 5-6 maybe more institutions who fund them, more the number more people who intervene in the production process. The production of the films takes 6-7 years. Hard to get approval. “’market-conforming’ bureaucracy” (Merkel) or ‘dictatorship of mediocrity’ (Lars Henrik Gass). A public service aiming for commercial success.

Wrapping political enlightenment in history (Ulrich Köhler) or serving a menu for an international audience with series like Babylon Berlin and Deutschland 83/86/89. On the national TV front, Eldorado KaDeWe: Jetzt ist unsere Zeit. Hertäg’s remark: “… in fact rather uninterested in the era it is depicting; its narratives of sexual liberation, deprivation and excess might as well be set in the here and now”.

Berlin School and after

Directors challenged Germany’s self-image and economic miracle in the 70s and 80s: Fassbinder, Kluge, Reitz, von Trotta. In the 90s and early 2000s, Berlin School was a counter-example of mainstream cinema. The term arose with Schanelec, Petzold, and Arslan being shown in festivals after some stagnant period for alternative filmmakers. It first appeared in Die Zeit in 2001, finding a similarity between the films of these directors: “…a liking for ellipsis and for keeping a distance; a similar way of dealing with space and time; the same diffuse bright light. Most important, ‘all assertion has gone, replaced by observation’; in a country whose filmmakers were ‘diligently learning streamlined storyboarding’, this was a blessing”.

Berlin School:

  • presentist cinema
  • resisting the psychological realism, conventional dramatic structure and well-worn political tropes favoured by the system
  • exploring forms of realism, ‘a sensation of the reality of the present’ (Marco Abel)
  • set ‘in the here and now of unified Germany’ (Marco Abel)
  • low budget, easier to shoot
  • subtle alienation effects
  • loosely bound second generation: Hochhäusler, Grisebach, Heisenberg, Ade, Köhler (~10 directors, ~50 films)
  • styles diverge in time (Hochhäusler)

Hertäg aims to conceptualize “‘Post-Berlin’ cinema of the 2010s and 20s, including recent films by the School’s founding members”. Two trends:

  1. Outward turn
    1. Toni Erdmann (2016): Romania, a multinational corporation
    2. Western (2017): Bulgaria, German workers, construction
    3. Transit (2018): Marseille, re-contextualizing the refugees of the 1940s today
    4. Le Prince (2021): German art world and a businessman from DRC
    5. Giraffe (2022): Polish workers on a Danish Island building a tunnel to Germany
  2. Historical turn: “experimenting with new aesthetic strategies for the representation of the past”
    1. Barbara (2012): the GDR of the early 1980s
    2. Phoenix (2014): post-war Berlin
    3. Undine (2020): present-day Berlin and the world of Romantic mythology
    4. Blutsauger (2022): in 1928
    5. Gold (2013): a German party’s journey to the Klondike of the 1890s
    6. Fabian (2021): Weimar era, based on Erich Kästner’s novel from 1931
    7. Die Andere Heimat (2013): 1840s, with Rhinelanders as economic emigrants
    8. In My Room (2018): the future, resembling a distant past

“The heterogeneity of German counter-cinema over the past decade defies rigid categorization, even in terms of its oppositional stance.”

Outward turns

Grisebach’s film Western is examined thoroughly by Hertäg. Its relation with the ‘western’ genre as an ‘eastern’, masculinity, encounter with the settler/colonialist, Germany in Eastern Europe, water rights, etc. are some core themes. In terms of style: it looks like a documentary, with landscape shots, spontaneity, non-professional actors, and physicality over psychology. A contemporary take on the “trans-border encounters.”

Ade’s film Toni Erdmann “examines managerial-level social stress and the highly gendered world of white-collar immaterial work.” The pressure of the competition, corporate sexism, her father, etc. Ines tries to surrender and fight back. Takes a look at the personal/professional interiors and interactions. A Berlin School rule is followed: “avoid psychology as causality.”

Re-framing past and present

A recent focus of filmmakers draws apart from the focus on the present in early Berlin School films. Petzold is a major example with Barbara, that does not conform to the official narratives of the GDR with extra elements that are lacking in films like Das Leben der Anderen. In Phoenix, the Jewish woman is not recognized by her ex-husband. He betrayed her to the Nazis and now trying to appropriate the heritage by using her as a doppelgänger. Transit and Undine also “indicate a certain urgency in finding new ways of relating past and present that go beyond naturalistic representation.” There are detailed analyses of these films, which I won’t go into here: “The tension between immersion and contemplation, being and seeing, experience and understanding, is always present in Petzold’s films.”

Fractured epochs

Dominik Graf, as an opposite to Petzold, the seduction cinema. He likes popular genres, also worked in TV a lot. He made Dreileben as a dialogue with Petzold and Hochhäusler, not far from the Berlin School. Hertäg looks at his latest, Fabian oder Der Gang vor die Hunde.

A fractured, conflicted, distracted, dark, hand-held, spooky, glance-based, fast-montage filmmaking. Unlike “Babylon Berlin, Graf avoids the iconic sites of the capital.” The opening scene (the long-shot moving from today to past, in a metro station) and the Stolperstein “reminds us of what lies ahead of these characters.”

Capital as a genre

Here, Hertäg starts with Radlmaier’s Blutsauger and mentions L’etat et Moi. Since I noticed this similarity with my shallow knowledge, I’ll block quote this part. After this, one can find an analysis of Blutsauger.

“His graduation film, Selbstkritik eines bürgerlichen Hundes (Self-Criticism of a Bourgeois Dog, 2017) already demonstrated this new approach, shared by others of his cohort, including Max Linz, Radlmaier’s contemporary at the DFFB. Their work explores the boundaries of what is possible within the German funding system, making films with multiple references to theory and cinema history, explicit political analysis combined with comedy and slapstick, and a visual language that on many levels obstructs conventional realism. (In Linz’s L’État et moi (2022), which reverses the coordinates of past, present and future, a time-travelling exile from the Paris Commune lives as a refugee in contemporary Berlin, where he appears as an extra in Les Misérables.)”

Note: See the article for more on Blutsauger analysis.

Different voices

Most films differ from the earlier ones in dealing with the past and transnational matters. Abel was mentioning statis and mobility for the Berlin School, the new wave focuses on capital and labor, or work. They also continue trying alternative ways of filmmaking economically. “While the Berlin School as a ‘school’ may have come to an end, its network of collaboration and exchange continues to exist.” Still, the attempts are mostly individual, a Oberhausen-like manifesto is needed to have drastic changes.

[1] Examples: Good Bye, Lenin! (2003), Der Untergang (Downfall, 2004), Sophie Scholl (2005), Das Leben der Anderen (Lives of Others, 2006), Baader Meinhof Complex (2009), 13 Minutes (2015), Der Staat gegen Fritz Bauer (The People vs Fritz Bauer, 2015)

P.S. By the way, I found out that Christoph Hochhäusler has been actively writing a blog called PARALLEL FILM, since 2006. I’m reading it with auto-translate now, let me leave that here too.

L’état et moi (2022)

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.” [1] 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.

[1] 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):

Blutsauger (2021)

“As a capitalist, he is only capital personified. His soul is the soul of capital. But capital has one sole driving force, the drive to valorize itself, to create surplus-value, to make its constant part, the means of production, absorb the greatest possible amount of surplus labour. Capital is dead labour which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks. The time during which the worker works is the time during which the capitalist consumes the labour-power he has bought from him. If the worker consumes his disposable time for himself, he robs the capitalist.” (Marx, 1990: 342)

I watched this one in my new favorite laid-back and friendly cinema, Zukunft. Two weeks ago, I watched Heikos Welt (2021) with some loud and drunk people. It doubled the joy of the film for me. The film felt like a less political and dart-fueled version of Herr Lehmann (2003), maybe because of the audience profile. Seeing Blutsauger was my second time in the same saloon, Saal 4, which has three rows and twenty-five seats. This time I thought I’d be alone watching the film, but just before it started, two people joined. Now I have a favorite seat where I can quickly go to the toilet or grab a beer in under one minute. I’ll keep going there. The person who checked the ticket gave his comments to me about the film, which was a lovely moment. It has been a long time since someone working in a cinema talked about the film to me.

I saw this one while looking for a film to go to. I was checking the films that are shown on that day. The “Marxist Vampire Comedy” part interested me; an unexpected mashup. The director Julian Radlmaier has some earlier films he directed, I haven’t seen those, but the titles are inviting: Ein Gespenst geht um in Europa (2013), Ein proletarisches Wintermärchen (2014) and Selbstkritik eines bürgerlichen Hundes (2017). I was reading some interviews, and my impression was that Marxism intellectually inspires the director, benefiting more from the theory than political action. The film also supports this impression.

The film takes place in Germany in 1928, where a so-called (ex-)”Baron” from the Soviet Republic arrives at the Baltic seaside. A factory owner, Octavia, welcomes him and invites him to her house. In an augenblick, it becomes apparent that the traveling man is no Baron but a worker trying to make his way in the film industry. His actual name is Ljowushka. He has some acting experience in early Soviet filmmakers’ films, primarily in Eisensteins’, who appears several times in the film. A film-lover candy from the film’s early scenes: the figuration actors are discussing which is the best filmmaker pitching Vertov and Eisenstein or Pudovkin and Kuleshov against each other. A follow-up to that scene might be Baron’s ‘meaning of life’ tirade focusing on the break times in a film set where a total procrastination and rest opportunity arises. I have no experience or observation of film sets. Still, I keep hearing in the actor interviews that these sometimes disturbingly long pauses and breaks are a definitive aspect of the work. I thought that it might be why they included a part about it in the film to capture a holistic labor experience.

I also don’t know much about vampire films, but I thought this one does not provide a lot of genre film treats. The first vampire film I saw might be the one we saw at the cinema with mom when I was 7 or 8. I recalled that it had Leslie Nielsen and found out it was Mel Brooks’ Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995). It should be a ‘meh’ b-movie, but I still remember how hard I was laughing while watching that as a kid. The next one after that might be the Interview With The Vampire (1994) that I saw during my high school years while getting to know cinema a bit more with the well-rated movies on IMDB. Other than these, the personal honorable mentions might include From Dusk till Dawn (1996), Blade (1998), What We Do in the Shadows (2014), or Penny Dreadful (2014-2016).

Even after Ljowushka’s identity is revealed, the house owner Octavia insists on him staying in the mansion. Meanwhile, the butler of the house, Jakob, also enters the story as one of the storytellers. There’s like a love affair between these three characters. They decide to shoot a film funded by Octavia which can show the qualities of Ljowushka as an actor. It’s a vampire film, maybe inspired by the recent hit Nosferatu (1922), but I don’t recall a reference to that one. Maybe I just missed it along with the hundreds of other references. While they’re shooting the film, an actual vampire appears in the town. The Marx reading group and a famous factory owner also joins the team in this surrealistic journey.

Luis Buñuel should be the first person who may come to mind during this film experience. The absurdity of the events and the extremely laid-back reactions from people helps the film not take itself seriously and build a coherent world. It heavily relies on the comedy elements, which were a lot and funny, but I’m not sure if they were enough to carry the whole film. I lost interest a couple of times during the second half.

The scene where they eat watermelon together at a picnic included in the movie poster introduced me to an interesting alternative way to share a watermelon with friends. Other things that I want to remember:

  • The scene where the butler was questioning the surplus value discussion and arguing that he’s not producing anything that might have a surplus value
  • When the reading group was asked what’s their theme, they were underlining the ‘critical’ part of the ‘Critical Marx Reading Group’
  • The love of cinema and the text/reading inside the film
  • The night when Octavia is annoyed since Ljowushka comes home late. She smokes a joint sitting on the stairs. When he enters, she returns to her room and tells him to finish the joint.
  • The dreamlike scenes with the street sign ‘Friedrichstraße’? (Not sure, that’s what I saw)


  • “Although the movie premiered in March 2021 at the Berlin International Film Festival, in the german speaking countries Germany, Switzerland and Austria the movie was geo-blocked. Therefore there was the exceptional case that it ran on a german film festival, but neither the german press nor the german audience were able to see it at the time.” – from IMDB
  • I read in one interview that the director got into Marx during the university years and he was joining to some Marx reading groups. I like it when someone transforms this personal and collective minor experience to a cultural product. I think there are a lot of interesting things happening in the university campuses that can be translated and included in other narrative forms.
  • From Ali Karimnia’s review on Letterboxd: “Although traces of many filmmakers can be seen in Julian Radlmaier’s latest film: from Roy Anderson to Wes Andersson, from Godard to Jarmusch, etc., we are still on the side of a artwork that can well be called a filmmaker.” It’s a bit too much reference, even for me.


Marx, K. (1990). Capital Vol. 1 (B. Fowkes, Trans.). Penguin Classics. (Original work published in 1867)

Corsage (2022)

I watched Corsage in Kino International without English subtitles. I was wandering around on a boring Sunday trying to find a film to watch, and didn’t notice that it didn’t have subtitles, DF. Kino International might be the cinema that I wanted to visit, but something was withholding me for a long time. Maybe because it looks so classic and I was feeling that I might not be able to follow some manners. But this film was a good fit for the special visit. The average age of the audience was a bit more than 60. Not sure if it was just a coincidence or if the film was a period drama that didn’t attract the youth. Or, maybe the film audience is aging anyways, the senescent seventh art… Conversely, the feminist and queer perspective of the film was really fresh and contemporary. It was unlike the period dramas I had watched before.

Watching films in a language I don’t understand always reminds me of the short interview with Jim Jarmusch in a car where he talks about how he likes watching films in languages that he doesn’t understand. I haven’t seen many, but the last one I remember was Dolan’s Matthias et Maxime (2019). I had hoped it would include enough English dialogues to understand, aber nie, almost no English at all. Still, I could track the emotions and the plot roughly. The same happened with Corsage, but I still enjoyed it. Plus, Sisi was speaking maybe four or five languages fluently in the film. Which I also don’t understand most of the time.

Wikipedia time. Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie in Bavaria, also called Sisi/Sissi was first the Duchess of Bavaria, then the Empress of Austria, and even Queen of Hungary for some time. She’s famous for many things: her looks and physical regimen, the Mayerling incident, and her assassination. There are also a lot of plays, films, and tv series dedicated to her: Sternberg, Cocteau, and Visconti are the first names who worked around her story. The most popular films are probably the ones from the 50s, starring Romy Schneider. The IMDB trivia mentions that there were five Austrian/German productions about her life only during the year 2021. Not following a committed biopic storyline, Corsage focuses on only one year of her life in 1877. The camera intentionally excludes many aspects of the public and formal life and instead focuses on private life.

The best thing about the film was the acting and the depth of the character, Sisi. The film opens with a suspenseful scene where Sisi holds her breath in a bathtub for quite a long time. I read some critics reading it as a metaphor for the film. It’s a character study about the struggles around psychology on the one hand, but it’s more about the societal structure that squeezes the character, even if she’s a Duchess. Melancholy. Thinking of it together with the film title, corsage, the film’s perspective towards the character is pretty clear. Sisi had many touching moments in the film, such as waking her daughter in the middle of the night to go for a horse ride, lying down on the bed of an injured soldier while visiting the army in the emergency room and sharing cigarettes with him, the final dance scene where her beard grows out of nowhere or the drug scenes in general.

While saying the ‘best thing,’ I forgot the other best thing: hearing Camille. Incidentally, it’ll be the second Dolan-related reference in the short text, but after encountering Camille with Paris and Tout dit and loving her songs, I fell in love with her opening song, Home Is Where It Hurts, in Dolan’s Juste la fin du monde (2016). It’s still one of my favorites. In Corsage, another song of her is used, “She was“. I thought the way the song is employed in the film was similar to Juste la fin du monde. Very high and ecstasizing the audience in just the correct scene. 💚 for Camille.

Vicky Krieps talks about her preparations for the film in an interview (from Cannes?), mentioning the training for horse riding, fencing, learning enough Hungarian, and ice swimming. While watching the film, I was impressed by the range of sports activities that Sisi was doing. She also elucidates how the idea of the film arose with her mentioning the idea to make a film about Elisabeth to Marie Kreutzer. I’ll try to redact the second part of the interview where she mentions how the film was born out of her childhood:

The idea comes from me. Because I saw these Romy Schneider movies when I was a little girl. And because in my household it was all about Janis Joplin and I was not allowed to watch princess movies… It was very exciting when I could go to my neighbor and watch princess movies, which was Sisi. So I loved them as a little girl. And when I was 14, I read the biography. And reading the biography, I thought, 14, I was too naive to really understand but it was enough to leave me with this enigma and like the puzzled about why was the woman like this? Why was she building the first fitness machines? Why was she not taking pictures? What was the problem? Or was she crazy, or you know… So when I worked in Vienna with Marie Kreutzer, seven years back, I said ‘Why is no one making a movie about Sisi, you know like a real one’? Because, 14, I had a feeling … some kind of mystery around the image we all have… And she laughed at me, she was like ‘hahaha, no, no one will do that, it’s kitch it’s not interesting’. And I said ‘really? Because, you know, when I read, young girl, I thought it was, it was’. And then nothing. And then, three years later … That’s really woman power. Without a word, without a bla bla… I get a finished script in my postbox, with a postcard saying: ‘Well I did go to the archive then, and you were right.’

Die innere Sicherheit (2000)

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.