New Narrative Forms Actors Who Look Like Amateurs

Films like “Dicke Mädchen” can be understood as vital extensions to the German film scene.
Films like “Dicke Mädchen” can be understood as vital extensions to the German film scene. | Photo (detail): © Missing Films

A culture of low-to-no-budget films has emerged, enabling film-makers to work independently from a funding system determined by the television stations. And in so doing, extend the German film scene.

Staub auf unseren Herzen (Dust On Our Hearts) is a Susanne Lothar film with a sad background. The film was released in January 2013, six months after Lothar’s death at the age of just 51. Hanna Doose’s feature film debut is thus one of the last films in which Susanne Lothar appeared before the camera, involuntarily making it part of the legacy left behind by a great actress.

But actually, Dust On Our Hearts is a Stephanie Stremler film. That is an indication of Susanne Lothar’s confidence in letting herself in for a production in which she was not the focus. Stephanie Stremler is an actress with a special background as one of four graduates of the Ernst Busch Academy of Dramatic Arts who were followed by documentary film-maker Andres Veiel between 1997 and 2003 in his long-term observation Die Spielwütigen (Addicted To Acting).

Remarkably, of the four, Stremler was the one seen as being most likely to fail. She appeared to be so capricious that it was impossible to imagine her being able to play big, difficult dramatic characters. “I can’t actually pretend at all,” says Stremler in Dust On Our Hearts. In this film, she plays 30-year-old Kathi, a single mother and an actress eking out an existence who has to put up a fight against her own mother (Susanne Lothar) for confusing care with maternalism.

Talking like Stephanie Stremler

That describes Stremler’s acting as aptly as the form of Hanna Doose’s film. Stremler is not squeezed here into the role of the kind of young woman typically to be seen on television. Rather, her emancipation from her mother and her self-assertion in her relationship with her ex-husband (Michael Kind plays the long-absent father, now remorseful for pragmatic reasons) take place in the openness of the screenplay, which initially places demands on Stremler’s acting. It seems that the actress herself is constantly surprised by the words she manages to produce. At the same time, space is needed for her petulant, apparently awkward physicality.
 

To say that a film like Dust On Our Hearts is improvised does not do justice to it because that has associations of spontaneity and quick-wittedness that are irrelevant to Hanna Doose. The film does not encounter Stephanie Stremler unprepared, but knows precisely what it is letting itself in for, as evidenced by the unconventional metaphor of the title. It derives from a song performed jointly in the film by Kathi and puppet actor Fabian (Florian Loycke), probably the best way for them to express a relationship they both find a little cumbersome.

Hanna Doose’s film, porous in the positive sense of the word, is not a one-off. In the last few years, young German film-makers have increasingly sought new narrative forms. In the case of Axel Ranisch (Dicke Mädchen – Heavy Girls) and Nico Sommer (Silvi), this was partly due to financial reasons. A culture of low-to-no-budget films has emerged, enabling film-makers to work independently from a funding system determined by the television stations. Its attraction is in drawing the aesthetic consequences from a dearth of means.

Giving information like Lina Wendel

When the enterprising Axel Ranisch was its front man, this area was dubbed Berlin Mumblecore after a segment of American independent film where a distinctive style emerged from having to do everything oneself. “Mumbling” is the opposite of the clear articulation of a film actor. Yet in their apparent linguistic inadequacy the distinctions between characters and actors and between reality and film production are blurred again and again. In the light of this aesthetic principle, Peter Trabner, lead actor in Heavy Girls, is an actor who looks like an amateur.
 

The director of Silvi, Nico Sommer, blurs the boundaries between “real” and “invented” still further in integrating interview-like information into his story of a 47-year-old woman whose husband leaves her for a younger woman and who rushes into sexual adventures. “Based on a true Story” we read in the opening credits, making the documentary-like scenes with lead actress, Lina Wendel, a balancing act. Unlike in re-enactments of a contemporary story, this is not about documentation or providing evidence of something that actually happened, but about having unobstructed access to reality.