Aug 21, 2014

Ostkreuz




I have certainly seen more kraut flicks than the typical uncultivated American slob and I can say without hesitation that Wolfgang Becker’s Good Bye Lenin! (2003) is one of the most revoltingly contrived, sickeningly sentimental, and just plain intolerably kitschy and phony German films that I have ever seen, as if it was made specifically for American high school cheerleaders so as to trick them into learning about the reunification while they wet their panties for swarthy Teutonic mutt Daniel Brühl. I may not be German, but I do like an unhealthy number of malignantly melancholy Deutscher flicks and I can happily report that there are more than a couple of films about the German reunification (aka ‘Die Wende’) that, unlike Becker's conspicuously crappy kraut blockbuster, wallow in Weltschmerz and bleed bleakness. Indeed, in the late great Christoph Schlingensief’s art-trash splatter flick The German Chainsaw Massacre (1990) aka Das deutsche Kettensägen Massaker, a cannibalistic family of West German kraut redneck capitalist Nazis kill, cook, and eat newly arrived krauts from the east. Additionally, in Aryan degenerate Oskar Roehler’s quasi-neo-expressionistic flick No Place to Go (2000) aka Die Unberührbare—a work based on the director’s own mother’s final days—a Leninist novelist from the West finally realizes her dream of a commie utopia is nothing more than an absurd fantasy after the fall of the Berlin Wall, so she opts for killing herself by jumping out of a window, but not before buying an exceedingly expensive Christian Dior coat, attempting to buy speed from her son, and being institutionalized. Sapphic auteur Ulrike Ottinger’s minimalistic yet nonetheless epic documentary Countdown (1990)—a work shot on both sides of the wall chronicling the weeks leading up to the reunification, hence the title—makes both sides of Berlin seem like one gigantic post-industrial cultural graveyards inhabited by scheming gypsies and haunted by the ghosts of German Jewry. Undoubtedly, the Teutonic neo-neorealist work Ostkreuz (1991) aka Westkreuz directed by Michael Klier (The Grass Is Greener Everywhere Else, Farland) also follows in the less than timeless tradition of decidedly dejecting reunification flicks. Sort of like a Germany Year Zero 2.0, albeit following a firecrotch teenage girl as opposed to a adolescent blond boy, Klier’s film—a work advertised by its German distributor Filmgalerie 451 as telling, “the episodic story of 15-year-old Elfie, who literally and metaphorically inhabits a no-man’s-land between the two Germanys during the Wende”—is just as much about the loss of ‘Heimat’ in Germany in general as it is about the oftentimes overlooked negative effects of the reunification. Directed by a Sudeten German that was born in 1943 whose family was expelled from Eastern Europe, landed in East Germany in 1947, and eventually fled to the West in 1961, Ostkreuz certainly depicts depressed and destitute Germans, but also features even more patently pathetic Slavs, especially Polacks, as if Berlin turned into a human toilet for the Slavic lands. Featuring great naturalistic performances from actors who have starred in works ranging from Jörg Buttgereit’s Nekromantik (1987) to Krzysztof Kieslowski’s A Short Film About Killing (1988) to Tom Tykwer’s obscenely overrated Teutonic celluloid turd Run Lola Run (1998), Ostkreuz is an undeniably potent and important work, but it is also gratingly sad and culturally pessimistic flick that, although in color, could not feature a more colorless and expressionless world. 



 Elfie (Laura Tonke) is a 15-year-old redheaded teenage girl who lives the undignified existence of sleeping in a ‘containerlager’ (a sort of large metal storage container) with her single mother (Suzanne von Borsody) in Potsdamer Platz. Of course, they would like to live in an actual apartment but they need at least need 3000 marks for a security deposit, so Elfie tries to do various odd jobs to obtain the money, including cleaning storefront windows for 10 marks a job and selling assumedly stolen Jap car radios to people that live in the same containerlager ghetto as she does. Of course, Elfie becomes all the more inclined to want to raise the money when she notices that her mother is screwing a scumbag slob of a neighbor named Henry (Henry Marcinkowski).  As for Elfie's father, he is never mentioned. One day, Elfie spots a blond Polack thief named Darius (Miroslaw Baka) getting in a scuffle with a store owner and she snags the con’s wallet when it falls out of his pocket. Of course, Darius catches up with Elfie and takes his money back, but their less than ideal meeting also sires a parasitic relationship between the two very desperate people. Needless to say, before she knows it, Elfie is peddling counterfeit cash for Darius (who strategically has the teen do his dirty work because she is underage and cannot get in serious trouble like an adult) and she is almost instantly caught, but she does not squeal to the pigs. Upon talking to Darius' rather bitchy (ex)girlfriend Karla (Beatrice Manowski of Buttgereit's Nekromantik), Elfie is warned, “you better be careful with Darius.”  Indeed, Darius is such a degenerate and morally vacant dude that he has no problem exploiting desperate women, even if it comes at the cost of their safety.  Elfie is also told by Karla’s younger brother Edmund (Stefan Cammann) that his sister and Darius were previously in Bulgaria but something went wrong after they committed some sort of crime, so they both landed in prison as a result. 



 At home, things are no better for Elfie, as she overhears her mom’s boyfriend Henry talking about kicking her out. When Elfie’s mom remarks that Henry plans to buy them a bigger container to live in, the angst-ridden teen snidely remarks, “So he can fuck you without being disturbed,” thus resulting in the mouthy little lady being slapped in the face. Meanwhile, Darius proposes a dubious black market meat scheme to Elfie with a supposed markup of 1000%. When the meat finally arrives from Poland, Darius only receives a semi-rotting pig corpse which he is too lazy to carry, so he drops the beast carcass, kicks it like a weak pansy with a bad attitude problem, and walks away like the perennial loser that he is. Naturally, Elfie becomes rather disgusted when the pathetic prole Pole degenerate attempts to make out with her in a rather aggressive fashion. Ultimately, Elfie takes advantage of Darius' innate laziness and manages to sell the pig on her own after finding an ancient wooden cart and hauling it to a prospective buyer. Of course, Elfie’s mom is somewhat creeped out when Darius shows up at her home and asks to wait for her daughter.  Despite Darius' clearly questionable intentions, Elfie's rather negligent mother lets the Pole stay. When Elfie finally arrives home to the ‘containerlager’ find delinquent Darius in her room, she is more than just a little bit irked, but he hands her a fat wad of cash and coerces her into riding all the way to the bottom of Siberia with him and his sleazy middle-aged Polack comrade Gustaw (Gustaw Barwicki) to sell a shitty old beat-up used car. Since Elfie knows Russian, Darius plans to use her as translator when they talk to the car buyers, which include a Mongol and some sleazy Turkish-looking fellow. When the buyers arrive, they notice that Darius has not brought the car he advertised and a fight breaks out, with the Mongol even threatening Elfie with a gun. Though Elfie manages to escape, weak cowards Darius and his Gustaw leave her behind, thus she must fend for herself and travel all the way back to Germany on her own, which proves to be an extra miserable experience as she has a wounded arm. 



 When Elfie arrives back at home, she becomes so agitated upon hearing her mother fucking Henry in the other room that she decides to runoff to her trashy taxi-driver grandfather’s apartment.  Rather pathetically, Elfie's grandfather is admired by the family because he at least has a job as a taxi-driver. Not exactly the most ideal granddaughter, Elfie decides to steal her opa’s entire Meißen porcelain plate set and abruptly leaves without saying so much as a goodbye. While walking around Alexanderplatz station, Elfie inevitably bumps into Darius, who absurdly remarks after noticing her valuable porcelain collection, “You’ll always be cheated if you’re alone,” as if he has not cheated her a number of times already. Deciding that she does not want to get screwed over again, Elfie calls the cops on Darius and he is soon hauled away. After selling the Meißen collection, Elfie has enough money to pay for the deposit for an apartment, but things do not exactly workout as perfectly as she planned. When Elfie shows her mother the money, she acts ungrateful and threatens to get rid of her if she continues to start quarrels. When they finally get a new apartment, Elfie decides to stay behind at the last minute, as she wants nothing to do with her mother’s boyfriend and their seemingly parasitic relationship. Ultimately, Elfie hooks up with Karla’s little brother Edmund and even buys the lad a large meal and beer at a fancy restaurant, though they are initially denied entry by the waiter due to their rather disheveled appearances. After Elfie waves around cash to prove she can pay, the waiter sets up a table for the two teens to sit at that is away from the regular customers, so as not to offend the other patron's sensitive bourgeois sensibilities. In the end, Elfie’s future looks rather bleak, but at least she now has a (boy)friend and has developed a new sense of independence. 



 Out of all the German filmmakers that have dealt with gritty proletarian realism, Michael Klier is probably the most pessimistic and anti-aesthetically-inclined. Indeed, the works of (Roland Klick (Bübchen, Supermarkt), Uwe Schrader (Kanakerbraut aka White Trash, Sierra Leone), Uwe Frießner (Das Ende des Regenbogens aka The End of the Rainbow, Baby), East German documentarian Jürgen Böttcher (Jahrgang '45 aka Born in '45, Martha), Canadian-born Austrian auteur John Cook (Schwitzkasten, Artischocke), and Klaus Lemke (Rocker, Paul) seem almost ‘upbeat’ and ‘optimistic’ compared to the seeming pathological filmic forlornness of Ostkreuz, which makes the future of post-Wende Germany seem even more hopelessly horrid than most works belonging to the post-WWII Trümmerfilm genre. Indeed, while she may not be hooked on junk or peddling her gash for cash, the protagonist of Klier’s film makes the eponymous anti-heroine of Christiane F. – We Children from Bahnhof Zoo (1981) seem like a decadent countess by comparison, as the thought of happiness has been totally extinguished from her forsaken soul. Needless to say, Ostkreuz is not exactly the sort of film that has great replay value unless you’re the sort of person that has a thing for semi-homely teenage train wrecks who seem somewhat asexual. Unquestionably, one of the most entertaining aspects of the film for me was seeing pathetic Polack Darius—a sort of failed male femme fatale (or ‘l'homme fatal’) who is just too plain dumb and ugly to be successful with his calculating and conniving behavior—exploit protagonist Elfie in a somewhat ‘psychopathic’ fashion. Of course, Darius is just too decidedly dumb to be an actual psychopath. Indeed, Darius fulfills any Polish stereotype a person can think of and then some, as a majorly moronic small-time conman whose rather repellant exterior is only transcended by his craven character. A work deriving its name from an S-Bahn station in East Berlin linking the north, south, east and west, Ostkreuz ultimately makes it seem like there is no future in Germany no matter what route you take, but then again, the film also reveals that no matter how bad a German’s life gets, it will always be better than that of a Pole, thus demonstrating that history has a way of repeating itself, even after nearly half of a century's worth of Soviet style repression and slavery. 



-Ty E

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