De-Berlinification, Petzold-style

It’s very strange to watch a series of films set in Berlin with characters living in the city or its suburbs, and yet there’s no effort by the director whatsoever to identify the city. How can you shoot a film in one of the oldest cities in Europe and transform it into a nondescript and rather blah metropolis?

Close-ups and medium shots of your cast, that’s how, as well as focusing the camera lens on specific frame areas that deny historical elements from the past. Shoot characters in cars and dirty buses. And create a sound mix that’s highly selective in the kinds of city noises within that weird little cosmos you’ve created.

That’s part of the fascination in seeing a film by Christian Petzold, and since I’ve already covered Yella (2007), the last part of his Gespenster “Ghost” Trilogy, I moved back for Gespenster (2005), the middle film. Also reviewed is Wolfsburg (2003), a very clever variation of a classic film noir storyline where a man steeped in guilt seeks to remedy himself by helping a surviving victim, only to become obsessed with his wounded bird, with potentially lethal consequences.

I’ll eventually get to Petzold’s other work (including Die Inner Sicherheit / The State I am In, and his latest film, Jerichow), but coming soon are some more reviews of some other Berlin-based dramas, partially because October marks the 20th anniversary when the Berlin Wall was finally regarded by East German bigwigs as a bad idea, and a city and country were headed towards reunification.

Included in the upcoming mix is another film shot in and set during that grey period just after the war, and before the Wall’s erection, as well as some excellent documentaries on the people involved in a large escape tunnel dug in 1961, and dramatized (quite brilliantly) in Der Tunnel / The Tunnel (2001).



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