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Berlinale Bloggers 2022
A surreal play with fear

Anna Octopus in “We might as well be dead“. Director: Natalia Sinelnikova
Anna Octopus in “We might as well be dead“. Director: Natalia Sinelnikova | Photo (detail): © Jan Mayntz / HEARTWAKE films

From science fiction farce to long-term documentary: three German films are dedicated to life in a tower block.

By Philipp Bühler

Contagious diseases? Recently attracted attention as a result of antisocial or otherwise immoral behaviour? Yes, the security checks are stringent at the Berlinale, but Natalia Sinelnikova’s Wir könnten genauso gut tot sein (We might as well be dead) turns the screw even further. Not everyone can get into the idyllic tower block residence with its own park, which the opening film in the newcomer section “Perspektive Deutsches Kino” (Perspectives on German Cinema) describes as a surreal dystopia.

Trust is good, constant control is better – the fact that this science fiction vision is actually reminiscent of Potsdamer Platz, the site of the festival, is a complete coincidence of course! In another dark twist, the object of our affection in the film is security officer Anna, who is responsible for the checks.

A fragile sense of security

The carefully selected community of moneyed residents lives in perpetual fear. The threat is invisible, perhaps only imagined, and they deal with it by holding group singalong evenings and continually encouraging a high alert level. Every little incident, such as the disappearance of a dog, erodes the residents’ fragile sense of security. The director views her absurdly comical play with a dash of middle-class paranoia as a reflection of her own childhood in Germany. She arrived there with her parents in 1996 from St. Petersburg as Russian-Jewish contingent refugees. The feelings of being an outsider, as well as mutual distrust, are immediately plausible. Otherwise the film, which I really liked, is completely open to interpretation. If you wish, you can see Sinelnikova’s study on “the power of fear as a self-reproducing system” as a relevant analysis of current discourses on sensitivity.

A peek at the suburbs

Funnily enough the tower block theme cropped up in two more German films yesterday, both of which were shot in the outskirts of Berlin. Kalle Kosmonaut (Generation) is a lovely long-term documentary film about Kalle, an 18-year-old “street kid” and outright urchin who comes from an unstable family and lands up in jail – and hopefully soon in a better life. Directors Tine Kugler and Günther Kurth depict life in prefabricated housing in an approach that’s sincere, realistic and cliché-free. The same could be said of Isabelle Stever’s Grand Jeté (Panorama), although it’s not always and not necessarily good. The intimate family drama goes “beyond moral conventions” to deal with the subject of incest between mother and son. Allegedly this happens in all kinds of environments and structures, but for me it evoked more of a sense of unease.