The bobby-cars are having a bad day. One by one, they are hurled at the shatterproof glass door, which separates the grey and sparse courtyard of the youth detention centre from the inside of the building. Even though the door withstands, it isn’t over yet. With a loud groan, nine-year-old Benni runs to crash one of the toy vehicles into the door. A little CGI crack shows in the glass, just as the neon-pink title-card foreshadows that this is so much more than just about a broken door.
Some films make you emotional, some render you contemplative, while others fill you up with a creeping sensation of hope or despair. But only few manage to completely sweep you off your feet by offering a nuanced, empathetic portrayal of trauma and mental illness. In this respect, the recent German arthouse film System Crasher arrives like a furious marathon runner with a megaphone. A more apt description of is “wucht”, the German synonym to “stunner.”
Fatih Akin, Turkish-German director with international acclaim, has a reputation. His background as the child of Turkish immigrants is irrefutably ingrained into his films, which work through a headstrong voice that continuously offers a refreshing perspective in the overwhelmingly white realm of contemporary German auteur cinema. His cinema is angry and often more focused on its morally ambiguous character’s journey than the ever-present politics of their situation. This is an approach that doesn’t always work out: 2017’s In The Fade slightly stumbles when it shifts from a political testimony of judicial failure to personal revenge tale, but it’s nonetheless fascinating to watch how Akin’s clings to this kind of storytelling and attempts to dissect the personal implications of the political. He continues this narrative attempt with his newest film, The Golden Glove, an adaptation of a novel based on a real-life case, and sparked controversy in the 2019’s Berlinale competition as a result. Critics of national and international outlets harshly criticized the unflinchingly graphic story of serial killer Fritz Honka, who centers the films politically loaded narrative and whose violent acts against women leave a deep feeling of unease and disgust in the viewer’s gut. It’s absolutely legitimate criticism, but busy festival schedules and a perhaps biased (and understandable) attitude against the serial killer narrative might have blocked out the film’s qualities as a rich and engaging study of the marks of psychological violence that the wars of the 20th century left on German society.
German film has been suffering from an utter lack of strong genre films during the past years. With the exception from a few, rare surprises like independent filmmaker AKIZ’s brilliant film Der Nachtmahr (which became a flop that ultimately left the director in debt), there is no real courage to delve back into certain narrative patterns, and when they do, they play it incredibly safe, which dampens the hope for possible investors of such films even more. It’s very strange, especially since turning back time reveals that the brightest lights were of German cinema, where genre films such as Metropolis, Vampyr, and M shaped their successors worldwide into what they are today.
While Ulrich Köhler’s In My Room, a film heavily influenced by the filmmaking style of the Berliner Schule–a german filmmaking movement that originated in the 90’s, whose representatives are often formed by a depressive, stakeless atmosphere mirroring both social and humanist grievances–is not a genre film per se, but it shows a surprising amount of flirtation with post-apocalyptic motifs and images. It’s a refreshing change of pace on a visual plane, not only for the Berliner Schule, but the entirety of contemporary german film.