H. Baer: German Cinema in the Age of Neoliberalism

German Cinema in the Age of Neoliberalism.

Baer, Hester
Film Culture in Transition
Anzahl Seiten
320 S.
€ 109,00
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Kerstin Stutterheim, School of Creative Arts and Industries, Edinburgh Napier University

The author's aim with this book is to demonstrate Germany to be prototypical of neoliberal society; and how this fact reflects in German cinema, especially in feature films produced between 1980 and 2010. “German cinema ultimately constitutes more than just a case study for understanding the transformation of film in the contemporary period – in many ways, it might be conceptualized as the cinema of neoliberalism per excellence.” (p. 20) For her argumentation, Baer examines selected film productions utilising economic, political, and sociological theories. Each chapter discusses two or more films under a thematic focus consequent the above-introduced approach. Thus, she argues, one can make neoliberalism visible (cf. p. 35).

The argumentation presented in this book has two angles: On one level, Bear’s interest is to demonstrate through her discussion of particular films, one might understand the theoretical reflection on the transformation to a neoliberal society and hence how this change influences life of individuals and the society. Besides her emphasising that she aims to reflect on real life, political and economic changes within society influencing the situation of individuals as well, she discusses only movies. Documentaries made for cinema distribution and reflecting equivalent topics as well are not considered. On the other level, the author discusses some aspects of production context and changes to the funding system in Germany to contextualise the respective chosen movies. Although she stresses this change happened as a result of the “reunification” (which was a “Beitritt”/accession), she states the changes from author film to neoliberal structures of film production happened 1980 and moreover after the election of Helmut Kohl in 1982 (cf. pp. 27 and 31). This dating she presents as a focus point for the selection of films and the organisation of the argumentation throughout the book.

In the introduction, Bear presents her approach: a short history of neoliberalism in Germany and applied methods. The chapters are organised following topics in relation to neoliberalism. Chapter one “German Cinema and the Neoliberal Turn: The End of the National-Cultural Film Project” (pp. 43–76) and two “Producing German Cinema for the World: Global Blockbusters from Location Germany” (pp. 77–128) focus on the emergence of new constellations of German cinema after the neoliberal turn. Gilles Deleuze's books on Cinema[1] are core here. For chapter one, the movies discussed to demonstrate the shift to a neoliberal primed film production are Wim Wenders’ DER STAND DER DINGE (FRG/PT 1982) and Iris Gusner's ALLE MEINE MÄDCHEN (GDR 1980). Blockbusters made in Germany discussed here are DAS BOOT (Wolfgang Petersen, FRG 1981), LOLA RENNT (Tom Tykwer, DE 1998) and DAS LEBEN DER ANDEREN (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, DE 2006).

In chapter three, “From Everyday Life to the Crisis Ordinary: Films of Ordinary Life and the Resonance of the DEFA”, Konrad Wolf’s SOLO SUNNY (GDR 1980) is examined – a film of high impact at that time in former German Democratic Republic – and Andreas Dresen’s SOMMER VORM BALKON (DE 2005), both written by Wolfgang Kohlhaase. This chapter bridges well into chapter four: “Future Feminism: Political Filmmaking and the Resonance of the West German Feminist Film Movement”. It discusses EINE FLEXIBLE FRAU (Tatjana Turanskyj, DE 2010) and BILDNIS EINER TRINKERIN (Ulrike Ottinger, FRG 1979) in context of their influence on West German Feminist film making. These films “demonstrate how responsibilization, flexibilization, and professionalization emerge as “solutions” to problems and agency and sovereignty in neoliberal capitalism” (p. 157).

From feminist points of view, we move on to “The Failing Family: Changing Constellations of Gender, Intimacy, and Genre”, as the topics for chapter five films discussed are MÄNNER by Doris Dörrie (FRG 1985), DER BEWEGTE MANN by Sönke Wortmann (DE 1994), COMING OUT by Heiner Carow (GDR 1989) und SEHNSUCHT by Valeska Grisebach (DE 2006). The first two categorised as “Beziehungskomödie”. Baer contrasted these two popular comedies with the other two films which “archive the failing family and transformations in gender, sexuality, and intimacy through interrogations of genre” (p. 195). In contrast to chapter four with female protagonists, these four films ”share a notable focus on men and masculinity. Likewise, in all four films the bed functions as a symbolic space both for representing the transformation of intimacy in neoliberalism and for testing out non-normative images of gender and sexuality on screen” (p. 195). Chapter six follows with a focus on “Refiguring National Cinema in Films about Labour, Money, and Dept” (pp. 243–290), referring to films as Jerichow (DE 2008) by Christian Petzold, FREMDE HAUT by Angelina Maccarone (DE 2005), AUF DER ANDEREN SEITE by Fatih Akin (DE 2007), and DEALER by Thomas Arslan (DE 1999). Baer concludes her argumentation with TONY ERDMANN by Maren Ade (DE 2016) and stating her “analysis shows how contemporary German film production respond to the changed context in which cinema operates today […] However, as the example of Toni Erdmann suggests, this context has led not only to affirmative, conciliatory, and consensus-driven filmmaking, but also to new aesthetic constellations and imaginaries” (p. 294).

Although the argumentation throughout is reflecting a well-grounded and referred theoretical background analysing Neoliberalism and its impact on society, discussing important and urgent issues; unfortunately, facts to Baer’s argumentation are often not precise contextualised or presented. She derives her argument that this turn in production conditions had already taken place in the early 1980s from the publications of Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Michael Wedel and Michael Rabinger, involving the death of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and from several press publications discussing circumstances around the shift in the early 1980s. However, the law regarding film funding – Gesetz über Maßnahmen zur Förderung des deutschen Films – first published and set in place in 1968, with updated versions in 1971, 1974 and 1979, and 1986/87. The drastic change in film funding regulations that put an end to independently produced Autorenfilm or made them almost impossible, took place consequent from new versions of that law in 1992/93[2] – after the end of the “Cold War” and a few years in the new unified Germany – and exacerbated with the version of 1999.[3]

The analysis of neoliberalism in Germany as presented by Hester Baer through fiction film productions shades a light of changes and resulting situation of the German society. However, as important and convincing the theoretical approach is, the selection of films (and the decision to focus only on movies despite the title is ”German Cinema”) seems to be eclectic or mirrors which films are internationally accessible. With some examples, it appears Baer chose the particular movie because it fit the argument and not because it resulted from close reading and detailed analysis of the work itself (as proposed at p. 35) and its production context. For example: The screenplay for ALLE MEINE MÄDCHEN was developed by the author Gabi Kotte over seven years and finished in the late 1970s. Considering the production background of that film, it does not fit well to the argumentation it would represent the shift happening consequent of events in 1979. The story is situated at Narva, the factory for light bulbs as a reference to Jürgen Böttcher’s documentary STARS (GDR 1963). That documentary was influential, famous, much admired and of importance. Moreover, ALLE MEINE MÄDCHEN-character Ralf Päschkes’s hesitation to make a film about the group of female workers emphasises not “the implication of gender (including male authorship and the representation of women)” (p. 45) since this was not an issue at that time for the author of the screenplay. Ralf’s reaction is based on his attempt to direct another project. Also, the sentence that people would switch the channel refers to watching West-German broadcast programmes instead of home-made productions and the sentence a political provocation since it was not at all welcome for GDR citizens to watch West German television.[4]

Furthermore, several details are either not precise contextualised (for example: Gerd Rohrbach was no longer president of the film academy at the time the book was written; Constantin Film was not the only film production and distribution company still owned by Germans in 1979) or not included. Concerning the intention of tracing the influence of neoliberalism on the economic and social situation, one might expect some facts in this regard supporting the argument. These issues unfortunately affect the persuasiveness of the otherwise important analysis of the transformation of German society into a prototype of a neoliberal state.

[1] Gilles Deleuze, Cinema I. The Movement-Image, London 2013; ders., Cinema II. The Time-Image, London 2013.
[2] Gesetz über Maßnahmen zur Förderung des deutschen Films vom 22.12.1967, in: Bundesgesetzblatt Teil I, 1967, Nr. 75 vom 27.12.1967, p. 1352–1359, URL: < https://bit.ly/3s2ysin> (12.10.2021); Zweites Gesetz zur Änderung des Filmfördergesetzes vom 21.12.1992, in: Bundesgesetzblatt Teil I, 1992, Nr. 58 v. 24.12.1992, p. 2135–2141, URL: < https://bit.ly/3IzX9Is> (12.10.2021).
[3] Cf. Joachim-Felix Leonhard (ed.), Medienwissenschaft. Ein Handbuch zur Entwicklung der Medien und Kommunikationsformen, Handbücher zur Sprach- und Kommunikationswissenschaft Bd. 3, Berlin 2002; Dieter Wiedemann, Eine Evaluierung der Filmförderung im Rahmen des Filmförderungsgesetzes (FFG). Filmwissenschaftliches/ -ökonomisches Gutachten, ed. by ANGA e.V./ Verband Deutscher Kabelnetzbetreiber e. V./ Bitkom – Bundesverband Informationswirtschaft, Telekommunikation und neue Medien e. V. und eco – Verband der Internetwirtschaft e. V., Berlin 2015, URL: <https://www.bitkom.org/sites/default/files/file/import/151116-FFG-Gutachten.pdf> (12.10.2021).
[4] Letter answering to my questions by Gabi Kotte, the screenwriter of ALLE MEINE MÄDCHEN.

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