Von wegen Schicksal – Bundesrepublik Deutschland 1979; Regie: Helga Reidemeister

This bears a resemblance to fly-on-the wall documentaries but it includes sequences of the making of the film which add a layer of complexity.

Irene Rakowitz, 48, is a divorced mother of four, who lives with her two youngest children in Berlin’s Märkischer Viertel district, surviving on disability payments.” (Retrospective Brochure).

She lives in the same high-rise block as her ex-husband. The two eldest children are closer to the father than to the mother. The Märkischer Viertel district was built between 1964 and 1974 by GeSoBau Gesellschaft für sozialen Wohnungsbau (Association for Social Apartment Construction). Close to what was the Berlin wall separating east and west Berlin it appears to be a concentrated area of relatively m modern working class housing. From what we saw of the buildings the tower blocks have the advantages and disadvantage of equivalent development in Britain in the same period.

What we see is the every-day life of Irene and her two children with her talking direct camera about how she manages. Later in the film we see similar sequences presenting the ex-husband and the elder daughters. There is clearly a high level of antagonism between the two now separated families.

Her [Reidemeister) documentary of a family hell, in which conflicts escalate instead of abating, had a strong point of view and was not uncontroversial in 1982. [when screened on West German television].

In fact this is not a family but two separate families who seem at war. But one point that concerned me was to what degree this ‘war’ has been facilitated or even aggrandised by the documentary. In a reflexive style the film opens with Irene at a 16mm editing table watching some of the footage; shot in black and white. Later in the film we see her watching her two daughters, now either married or partnered and working, commenting in stark and virulent terms on their mother. Remarkably at this point Irene does not seem especially fazed by this. At another point we watch some earlier footage from 1972 but I was uncertain what point this offered.

This struck me as a typical example of the television work in the period as fly-on-the wall became a recognisable genre. This example has the fascinating strengths but worrying weaknesses of the genre. It also seemed to me to go beyond the acceptable in the particular sequence where Irene watches her daughters holding forth. But straying beyond the ethical norms of traditional documentary was a common feature or failing of fly-on-the-wall.

The director, who scripted the film with Irene, Helga Reidemeister, was a social worker in the area. This production seems to have been the start of a filmmaking career. Her choice of title seemed to me odd. Did she think that the situation was fated? Did she think that it was an example of how people suffer in certain social conditions? In fact the people studied were all fairly articulate. Their lives and comments were always fascinating. But I did not sense that the film actually noted whether they were typical or atypical, and thus, what they represented.

The film had been restored in 2014 by Deutsche Kinemathek, so that and the programming presumably reflect a particular period and approach. But I wondered how far this work was representative or a unique take.