Mar 31, 2014
Unfortunately for him, German auteur Oskar Roehler (Agnes and His Brothers, The Elementary Particles) was born to egomaniacal communist writers who wanted nothing to do with him, so he was essentially brought up by his grandparents. While Roehler’s father was a novelist and literary editor who edited works by important West German literary figures like Günter Grass, his mother Gisela Elsner was a somewhat popular novelist who has been described as ‘Jelinek's older sister’ and was a member of the once-prestigious leftist post-WWII literary group Gruppe 47, to which Grass, Heinrich Böll, Ingeborg Bachmann, and various other German authors belonged. Among other things, Elsner, who was born into a wealthy family like so many other leftist literary types of her pedigree, is known for endorsing the destruction of bourgeois sexuality via group sex and orgies with her novel Berührungsverbot (1970). Depressed with the death of the GDR, falling of the Berlin War, and the realization that her materialist messiah Lenin’s dream would never be realized, Elsner committed suicide in 1992. With his first feature-length film Die Unberührbare (2000) aka No Place to Go aka The Unforgiven aka Hanna Flanders, Roehler did what probably no other filmmaker has done in history by depicting the last days leading up to his mother Elsner’s suicide. Shot in a black-and-white noir-ish style reminiscent of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s penultimate film Veronika Voss (1982) and, to a lesser extent, David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977), No Place to Go makes for a sort of celluloid obituary/suicide letter for the 68er-Bewegung generation and counter-culture movement in general. In its moody and melancholy depiction of the glorious fall of the so-called ‘Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart’, No Place to Go also makes for a much needed celluloid counterpoint to Wolfgang Becker’s sentimentalist swill Good Bye, Lenin! (2003), which essentially took a hopelessly goofy Hollywood approach to the dissolving of the GDR. As can be expected from a man whose mother abandoned him at the age of three, Roehler did not take a sentimental approach to depicting his mother in No Place to Go, but instead portrays her as a walking and talking anachronism and hopeless hypocrite whose Leninist political persuasion was in stark contrast to her affinity for expensive Christian Dior coats and aesthetically repugnant wigs. The atmospheric and intentionally aimless story of an over-the-hill leftist dame that becomes suicidal after coming to the realization that, regarding the German people and reunification, “They're not fighting for truth in the spirit of Lenin, they're fighting for candy bars,” No Place to Go is, if nothing else, one of the most intimately unflattering depictions of a communist intellectual.
As a once popular West German far-left writer who once dreamed of emigrating to East Germany but has just witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall and the almost unanimous joy among both West and East Germans, Hanna Flanders (Hannelore Elsner)—a sort of would-be-literary-diva and retarded femme fatale who fails at conning men but unquestionably dresses the part—has certainly seen better days and is contemplating suicide. After all, the GDR was the only place still publishing her pretentious bolshy novels, so she has also lost her sole source of income. Since she is considering offing herself, Hanna decides to relocate from her apartment in Munich to post-communist East Berlin where she plans to stay with her East Berlin mentor Joachim (Michael Gwisdek), who always promised her a place to stay if she ever arrived in the city. Before meeting with her dear marxist mentor in East Berlin, Hanna Flanders goes to West Berlin to visit her ex-speed-addict writer son Viktor (Lars Rudolph) who she has not seen in over three years and who used to provide her with drugs in the past. Ultimately, the reunion proves to be a pathetic disaster, with the mother unsuccessfully attempting to buy speed from her son who is withdrawing from drugs and does not take kindly to hearing his mother asking to do so such an unsavory thing. Of course, Hanna’s’s encounter with Joachim is no less disappointing, as he not only decides to not let her stay with him, but is also celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall and who tells his old ‘true believer’ student that, “times have changed dramatically,” which is a rather bitter pill for the novelist to swallow. Luckily, Hanna manages to secure a dilapidated old commie style apartment from an admirer. When Hanna goes to a local bar, she bumps into a drunken stranger named Dieter (Bernd Stempel), who states, “I’ve read all of your books. I liked your last one the best. The one about your sister committing suicide and how that happened…it was a really moving portrait of how barbaric interpersonal relationships can be.” Dieter also reveals that he is a teacher who teaches, “German and history…A fateful combo,” and taught some of her novels in school, which she takes as a great compliment. Of course, when the drunken Dieter begins groping Hanna, she freaks out, so the teacher verbally berates her like she is old trash, yelling, “Hey, you’re a real bitch, you know? You should be happy that anyone even wants to touch you anymore! Look at you, you old bag!…You, with those sagging tits. Hanna Flanders…wrote nothing but shit in the last 20 years!,” which naturally rather depresses the novelist. After failing to fall asleep and stating to herself, “What a nightmare! A nightmare. Now I can’t even fall asleep,” while walking around her Lynchian apartment like the bride of Frankenstein, Hanna wanders around East Berlin and runs into a happy young lady, who invites her to stay with her family, which she does. Of course, the family Hanna is staying with is celebrating the death of the GDR and when she remarks to them regarding her admiration of the dissolved nation, “For me, your communism here in the East was the perfect world. I had a lot of trouble with life in the West, since returning from England. And I often thought of moving to East Berlin…Now it’s all collapsed and it’s as if I too have fallen apart,” she is looked at as if she is a deluded moron. Indeed, Hanna finally has to admit regarding her disconcerting meeting with the happy East German family, “They're completely different people. I have no relation to them. I don't stand a chance there.”
More desperate than ever, Hanna decides to visit her elderly bourgeois parents to ‘borrow’ some money so she can get back to Munich. While Hanna’s mother is a cold bitch, her father is a cowardly cuckold, but he at least gives her some money to get back to Munich. Determined to get her old apartment back, Hanna attempts to return her designer Christian Dior coat back to the story she bought it from for only half the price, but the employees of the store look at her like she is a common bum and refuse to buy back the item. Luckily, Hanna ends up randomly bumping into her ex-husband Bruno (Vadim Glowna), who is still in love with her and is more than willing to give her a place to stay. That night, it seems that both Hanna and Bruno are transported back to the magic of the late-1960s, but when the two attempt to make love, the ex-husband is too drunk and depressed to consummate coitus. The next day, Hanna wakes to find that Bruno is even more drunk and babbling about events from decades past if they were only yesterday, stating, “Hanna, what are you doing here? I thought you’d fallen asleep. I’m so furious. It’s so fucked. So fucked. I’m so angry, I could cut off my hand. Gudrun, Ingeborg, Rita, Ulrike…I can understand these girls so well. They knew what was going on. You have no idea how much I loved Gudrun. I loved that girl so much.” Indeed, Bruno’s extra flabby appearance and rampant alcoholism clearly indicate he has not gotten over the moronic death of Ingeborg Bachmann nor the dubious suicides of the Baader-Meinhof babes, but most importantly, he has not gotten over Hanna, who has her head so firmly inserted in her ass that she never was able to devote herself to him. Needless to say, Miss Monomaniac Hanna leaves Bruno for good after his drunken debauchery. Before long, Hanna finds herself randomly waking up in a hospital where she is told she overdosed on barbiturates. To top off everything else, the Doctor reveals to Hanna that due to her proclivity towards chain-smoking, she has developed vascular disease in her leg and that if she does not quit ASAP, she will most certainly lose her egg. Ultimately, Hanna agrees to go to rehab and quit smoking cold turkey, but considering the already fragile state of her mind, it proves to be a most grueling experience. Fed up with life and realizing her dreams of a commie utopia are gone forever, Hanna takes one final drag from a cigarette and falls to her death from a hospital window. Indeed, it seems that the only thing that kept Hanna going in the first place was her dream of a Leninist utopia, so when all chances of that ever happening were dashed with the destruction of the Berlin Wall, she truly had nothing to live for and nothing to keep her going. Ironically, in the end, she was no different from the many die hard National Socialists who committed self-slaughter during the mass suicides in 1945 Nazi Germany.
Interestingly, despite the film’s already unflattering depiction of its lead, No Place to Go would later be described by auteur Oskar Roehler as a ‘romanticized’ view of his mother. Indeed, in a 2012 interview with the Deutsche Welle (DW) cultural magazine Arts.21, Roehler stated, “My mother really was a bad person who dreamed up a bunch of evil schemes” and “I felt as if I was being stabbed by needles again and again...The way my mother continued to judge me...my birth, my existence, and so on.” Ultimately, Roehler would later “exact revenge” against his mother by writing the autobiographical novel Herkunft (2012), which spans three generations of the director’s family (starting in the post-WWII era and concluding in the 1980s) and which the auteur later adapted into the epic 174-minute film Quellen des Lebens (2013) aka Sources of Life. While far from perfect and in many way a formative work, No Place to Go is certainly one of the more interesting and worthwhile German films of its mostly cinematically vacant zeitgeist. Indeed, a work that manages to cross Alexander Kluge’s Yesterday Girl (1966) with Fassbinder’s Veronika Voss with a little bit of Eraserhead (indeed, aside from featuring an eccentric protagonist with an even more eccentric head of hair, Roehler depicts post-Cold War Berlin in a similarly foreboding manner to Lynch's cult masterpiece) and campy hagsploitation (one can see Hanna Flanders as a sort of kraut commie equivalent to ‘Mommy Dearest’ meets Norma Desmond of Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950), albeit with a more intellectual, flat affect) thrown in for good measure, No Place to Go is one of the few German films of the 2000s that I would recommend to fellow cinephiles, especially those with an affinity for German New Cinema. A rare film where the viewer actually wishes for the protagonist’s suicide knowing that she wants nothing more than to disappear from the world, No Place to Go—for better or worse—is probably the most honest depiction of the disgruntled 68er-Bewegung mindset in an age where the fall of the Berlin Wall declared that dreams of a communist utopia were deader than Angela Merkel’s sex drive and no better person could have been better suited for directing the film than Oskar Roehler, the forsaken progeny of a commie ideologue who cared more about dead Judaic-Mongol mongrel marxist monster Lenin than her own son. That being said, I was almost surprised that No Place to Go did not conclude with the song “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” from The Wizard of Oz (1939), as it is a work that was directed by a man who confessed on German TV that he cried with joy upon learning that his mother died. An arthouse dramedy that destroys the commie celluloid mythos of Kluge and Straub, No Place to Go is a sort of nihilistic attempt at healing after generations of leftist lunacy in the Fatherland. Of course, as Roehler demonstrated with his mundane mainstream effort Jew Suss: Rise and Fall (2010), he lacks the testicular fortitude to approach the Third Reich era without any sort of the same self-loathing typical of the original left-wing cultural-cuckold kraut, thus demonstrating that he was truly his marxist parents' son.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 10:38 PM
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