At the inaugural symposium of the German Screen Studies Network at King’s College, London in July, a number of films were screened (including some at London’s Goethe Institut) to complement the conference’s theme of ‘The Return of the Real.’ (for further information, see: http://germanscreenstudies.co.uk/).
Andreas Dresen’s 2008 feature film (translated as Cloud Nine) presents us with the kinds of relationships rarely seen on the screen. We might think that there are taboos still to be broken regarding the representations of sexuality. There was the breakthrough representations of gay and lesbian themes in 1990s American Independent Cinema (“We’re here, we’re queer – get used to it”, as B. Ruby Rich famously wrote). In 2013, Blue is the Warmest Colour ‘s depiction of explicit, non-heterosexual sex still has the ability to shock audiences and to generate journalistic screed, as well as win the Palme d’Or. However, in a very naturalistically filmed, understated film, Dresen has captured the unthinkable in a story about falling in love – passionately and sexually – in your sixties and seventies. The film begins with an explicit scene of spontaneous lovemaking between Inge (Ursula Werner) and Karl (Horst Westphal), a client for her tailoring and alteration services. Back at home and feeling guilty, she attempts to put the momentary fling behind her and resume her life with her husband, Werner, (Horst Rehberg) a dependable and loving man, and with her children and grandchildren. I think one useful comparison is with Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation where the emotions, the complex and tangled relationships – and where nobody has to be a hero or villain – emerge through carefully crafted scenes which, on the surface, appear spontaneously filmed.
Dresen’s protagonists look their age. At times, in the experience of falling in love again he artfully uses soft filters to imply the girlish glow that returns to his female protagonist’s features. More artfully, the players are often filmed through the doorways of their cramped flat, keeping us distant from the unfolding melodrama and emotion. I feel this is a useful device, just as in Farhadi’s A Separation to remind us (unconsciously) that we cannot know everything about the intimacy in other people’s relationships. An action against conventional film-making which makes us believe this constantly with its close-ups.
Dresen is well-established as a director of the everyday, telling stories sympathetically and empathically. He has been quoted as saying: There may not be any message at all. You see, you don’t make a film because you have all the answers, but to discover something. This is reflected in his filming style, where there is an relaxed and improvisatory feel to the action. It has much of the feel of the social realism of someone like Ken Loach and certainly the same move towards difficult or tragic subjects. His latest, Halt auf freier Strecke (2011) (Stopped on Track) won a Prix Un Certain Regard at Cannes, for its portrayal of a man dying from brain cancer.
There are moments of intense melodrama that parallel the film with Valeska Grisebach’s Sehnsucht (Longing, 2006), especially in the languorous pace set in scenes and in the focus on everyday minutiae in people’s lives, punctuated by changes (forced or desired) and sometimes tragedy. A key strength here (as in other films by Dresen) is the reliance he places on his actors and their ability to live these roles in a completely convincing way. This is visible from his first feature film (after working in television) Halbe Treppe (2002), set in the border town of Frankfurt (Oder) right through to his prize-winning outing in Halt auf freier Strecke. Here’s a link to an English language German film digest, Kino, which features Dresen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofkZcec17e8. Significantly, Abdellatif Kechiche shared the Cannes Festival award with his two lead actors, a testament to the collaboration of artistic contributions on that film. Dresen is another example of the kind of director who uses a skill in letting the performances breathe to bring out the emotion fully in these kinds of intense stories, all too rarely seen. Wolke Neun is certainly worth seeking out on DVD, if only to remind yourself that there’s a long list of real emotional taboos to be dealt with sensitively in the cinema. If only this was the beginning of an (albeit) mini-revolution: ‘We’re older, we’re bolder – get used to it.’
Here’s an English language trailer (which doesn’t do it justice unfortunately)