Thursday, August 15, 2013

Hanging on to a dream

Die Innere Sicherheit (The State I Am In) 2000 Germany (106 minutes) directed by Christian Petzold; written by Petzold and Harun Farocki.
A German couple living twenty years on the run from their leftist terrorist past in West Germany is undone by their teenage daughter’s desire for an ordinary life.
This compelling, fast-moving tale is a family drama told from the point of view of fifteen-year-old Jeanne (Julia Hummer) raised abroad on the fly and home-schooled in isolation by educated and mysterious parents whom the viewer knows only as Hans (Richy Müller) and Clara (Barbara Auer).
Jeanne (Julia Hummer), Clara (Barbara Auer), and Hans (Richy Müller)
in Christian Petzold's 
Die Innere Sicherheit (The State I Am In) 2000 .
One of the hallmarks of a Christian Petzold film is its clean, spare architecture. Each detail introduced will reappear, often in ways one least should expect it.
In this story there are no politics, no history, and very little character backstory; there are only Jeanne’s feelings and impressions as the world rushes relentlessly at her and her parents, and Hans and Clara fight to hold it back.
Trained to be wary of strangers and watchful of her surroundings, Jeanne is at the same time childishly innocent of this world. Her age magnifies her conflicting feelings. As she tries later to explain to Heinrich (Bilge Bingül), her first boyfriend and likely the only person beside her parents, and close to her in age, with whom she has had personal contact, ‘My parents and I belong to a cult. It is very strict, and it’s difficult for me.’
The story opens on one of Portugal’s unspoiled beaches during an off season. Jeanne, taking a study break, is having a soft drink and sneaking a smoke at a seaside bar. She eyes a group of surfers. This is one of several scenes in which Jeanne watches young people her age socializing as though she were fantasizing what it would be like to be among them.
Heinrich, one of the surfers, notices Jeanne and comes over to meet her. She cuts short their chat without explanation when she sees her father at a distance; she knows it is time to leave.
Jeanne (Julia Hammer) and Heinrich (Bilge Bingül) in Christian Petzold's Die Innere Sicherheit (The State I Am In) 2000
The family domestic routine—the German title of the film, Die Innere Sicherheit, translates literally as domestic or internal security—is an orderly and disciplined idyll. Hans and Clara are in love; they care deeply for Jeanne, whom Clara tutors in calculus and foreign languages. The family appears to lead the discreet life of affluent expatriates. Their ultimate destination seems to be a comfortable exile in the Third World.
But first they must get out of Portugal. Hans’s trips during the day appear to involve meeting shady contacts to arrange their passage. The irony of the piece is that the family’s sublime and wary isolation is willfully blind to Jeanne’s becoming an adult in the image of her gifted, rebellious and idealistic parents.
Jeanne sees Heinrich again. She goes on a first date with him one evening while her parents are having noisy sex. When Heinrich talks about himself, Petzold literally transports the two hand-in-hand to a house in Hamburg that the boy describes in detail, the house he says his wealthy father bought, where his mother killed herself. Since that time it has been abandoned, he tells her.
A day earlier, an overfriendly, chatty middle-aged local (Rogério Jacques) had engaged Jeanne at the bar, purportedly to correct the German on his menu. The man apparently confirmed that Jeanne and her parents are well-to-do German expatriates living in a nearby apartment building. The family’s apartment is burgled several days later.
The burglary propels the narrative into high gear. Hans and Clara are cleaned out. They must risk returning to Germany to recover money hidden in old drops and contact former associates for the funds to escape abroad.
But the money drops are not productive. Nor are their old contacts especially thrilled to see Hans and Clara suddenly reappear, relieved to have moved on from their shared past. The police are seldom far behind them. It is clear that the authorities consider the couple to be extremely dangerous. The family ends up in Hamburg in the abandoned house Heinrich had described on his date with Jeanne.
Sent out one afternoon to do the household marketing, Jeanne does the entirely natural teenage act of shoplifting clothes and music cds—things she thinks will make her more like the kids she sees and get boys’ attention better than the anonymous duds her parents provide.
She crashes a film shown to a local high school class with a pupil (Inka Löwendorf) she meets in the street. She also discovers that Heinrich is in Hamburg and lives close to where she and her parents are hiding out. 
When Hans finds out that Jeanne shoplifted the clothes and cds, he is upset because of the wildly unnecessary risk to which she exposed them. He makes Jeanne promise not to shoplift or see any boys before they leave Hamburg.
Meanwhile, the only way Hans and Clara see to raise the money they need to get out of Europe quickly is a bank robbery like the kind they apparently did for the cause back in the day…
The film bears a ready comparison to Running on Empty, Sidney Lumet’s 1988 classic, in which River Phoenix starred as the teenage son of parents on the run from the FBI for having blown up a napalm lab in 1971 to protest the Vietnam War.
But what Petzold has done here is closer in nature to film noir: flawed but sympathetic protagonists operate at the whim of a femme fatale—here a teenage girl—to survive in an unjust world. By necessity of their flaw, they must find ways to achieve their end outside the institutions society provides to maintain order and serve justice.
In avoiding the politics and history, Petzold gives his characters more room to grow and develop relationships with each other. His is a highly unusual group of people in extreme circumstances; at the same time, it is a family going through things fathers, mothers and teenagers everywhere experience. 

No comments:

Post a Comment