Berlinale Bloggers 2022
“Red remains a lovely colour”

Sophie Rois, Hêvîn Tekin in: „L’ état et moi“. Director: Max Linz
Sophie Rois, Hêvîn Tekin in: „L’ état et moi“. Director: Max Linz | Photo (detail): © Markus Koob, SchrammFilm, Salzgeber

Judge Josephine Praetorius-Camusot's legal routine starts to unravel when a museum exhibit awakens from a long slumber: Hans List, a composer from the Paris Commune, bears an uncanny resemblance to her. "An anarchic comedy on the origin of German criminal law,” goes the tag line to Max Linz' Berlinale Forum contribution “L’Etat et Moi”.

By © Jutta Brendemühl

But wait, there’s more, and you better hold on to your intellectual meta-hat as philosophical quotes come at you like revolutionary shrapnel, between a sense of non-sense and non-sequitur. Smells like German theatre royalty, standing on the shoulders of wild giants like Bertolt Brecht and Christoph Schlingensief, Frank Castorf and René Pollesch and having quick-witted fun with it.

playful time travel

“People went into courtrooms and forgot that it was not a theatre,” reads the museum attendant from The Dynamic Square about Sergei Eisenstein’s comments on new screen shapes. Here, we’re in a museum with a courtroom diorama, a springboard made for German star actress Sophie Rois, who excels at the conflation of art and democracy and the playful time travel (or trap) between Josephine and Hans, as her judge persona ironically protests she cannot perform on a podium. Rois is having a big Berlinale year as she also leads Nicolette Krebitz’ competition world premiere AEIOU alongside Udo Kier.

L'Etat et Moi, between slapstick and stilted recitation, roams the oddly timeless streets of neoclassical Berlin-Mitte 2022, replete with swipes at tourists with bum bags and wheelie suitcases as well as the faux chateau Humboldt Forum. Silliness is a political weapon as we are talking terrorism, treason and art, interrogating the collusion of state and judiciary, cultural policy and “protest”. In a parallel sub plot, the crew is getting ready to put on the opera The Wretched. Added into the polit-romp are composer… ahh… communist wordplay and musical elements from Heine-Schumann Lieder to Rois rendering an Internationale medley on a restaurant piano. J’accuse!

new Berlin School

The design, between static cardboard aesthetic and colourful theatrics, paired with austere, scenic camera angles courtesy of Markus Koob set the oscillating framework for a motley panorama of characters, from manic emperor William I to menacing police officer Detlev Detlevsen. This too is a congenial doppelgänger role, for Rois’ Volksbühne Theatre comrade Bernhard Schütz. 28-year-old German-Canadian actor Jeremy Mockridge as the flustered legal intern flitting across the screen, waving his arms and inadvertently undermining his hyphenated superior’s authority by constantly mispronouncing his name, nimbly holds his own next to the stage veterans. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is purely intended.

Director Max Linz’ own preoccupations infuse the film. He studied film and philosophy in Berlin and Paris, taught set design at Berlin-Mitte’s Academy of the Arts. Linz is 38 and this is his third Berlinale Forum film, crafting a trajectory with his 2014 art-cinema-politics debut Asta Upset and 2019 sophomore feature Music and Apocalypse. Together with other (young, male) directors like Julian Radlmaier with his Berlinale 2021 Encounters film Bloodsuckers: a Marxist Vampire Comedy and debut Self-Criticism of a Bourgeois Dog, Max Linz might as well proclaim a new Berlin School for the 21st century -- perhaps the Berlin School of Sophistic Entertainment. 22 years later, we have moved from Christian Petzold's left-wing terrorism drama The State I'm In to the new formally composed reality of The State and Me. (Petzold producer Schramm Film are the producers of L’Etat et Moi.) Finally, Sophie Rois sings us out into the streets of old-new Berlin with “Please forgive me if I say that red remains a lovely colour”.