Sunday, February 7, 2010

THE STATE I AM IN (Die Innere Sicherheit, 2000)

Christian Petzold has been making movies since the 1990s, but Die Innere Sicherheit ("Internal Security") reportedly was his breakthrough film for the global film audience. I can see why, because it has a crime/terrorism angle and a generation-gap conflict all in one package. As with Jerichow, there seems to be an American influence, though I'm not aware if Petzold acknowledges a superficial resemblance between his story and Sidney Lumet's movie Running on Empty. There's a legitimate German context for his story, but he does admit in a DVD interview that the terrorist context is perhaps just a little out of date for his contemporary story. He keeps things abstract, never saying that the mother and father belong to the Red Army Faction, but that would probably be a German viewer's first assumption. But Hans and Clara don't come off as ideologues; they could just as well be a German Bonnie & Clyde who've survived long enough to have a teenage daughter, with all the complications that brings.

Julia Hummer as Jeanne.

The family starts the story in Portugal, biding their time before starting a new life in Brazil (a surprisingly common motif in global cinema, I'm learning). But a burglary diminishes their funds and draws police attention, so it's back to Germany in search of support from variously compromised comrades until the daughter, Jeanne, suggests that they hole out in a villa a fellow German in Portugal had told her about. Jeanne's at that age where she's growing interested in boys and fashion, and is coming to resent having to move and start over so frequently. When the German surfer dude reappears and tells her that he was just bullshitting her about the villa, she still feels a strong attraction to his free lifestyle. At the same time, her parents are paranoid about her forming any strong ties or compromising their secrecy as they plan a bank robbery that will bankroll their Brazilian trip.

Jeanne's in rebellion against her parents' lifestyle of perpetual rebellion, but there's nothing political about her revolt. The surfer dude, Heinrich, suspects that Jeanne belongs to a cult, and there's something cultlike about the enforced intimacy of the little family's existence. That comes through most dramatically when she has to choose between her parents and striking out on her own, with or without Heinrich. Either way, her decision could have dangerous consequences....

Heinrich (Bilge Bingul) ironically applies the third degree to Jeanne, but he might be better off not knowing what her parents are up to (below).

Between this film and Jerichow I can see something of a Petzold style. Already by this point he has an admirable pictorial clarity and a strong eye for natural and urban landscape and how to direct actors through each. He's a good director of actors and his family of fugitives (Julia Hummer, Barbara Auer and the distractingly big-nosed Richy Muller) all give good performances. Petzold's script (co-written with Harun Farocki) seesaws maybe once too often between Jeanne's family loyalty and her attraction for Heinrich, as if requiring one more tryst in order to set up the film's violent roadside finish. But the actors overcome this contrivance to keep the story compelling. Overall, my weekend Petzold project reveals him as a director who's been good for a while and at age 49 seems to be getting better.

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