DVD: Gespenster / Ghosts (2005

January 1, 2013 | By

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Film: Very Good/ DVD Transfer: Very Good/ DVD Extras:  n/a

Label: Indigo (Germany)/ Region: 2 (PAL) / Released: July 7, 2006

Genre: Drama

Synopsis: A teenage orphan encounters a woman claiming to be her mother.

Special Features:  n/a




The middle film in Christian Petzold’s Gespenster Trilogy (buffered by Die Inner Sicherheit / The State I am In from 2000, and Yella [M] from 2007) is another intimate drama about lost souls living emotionally numb lives, although what’s unique in Gespenster are the two unrelated stories that gradually converge and affect each other, as well as a nihilistic tone that ensures whatever hope for a resolution is undone by characters that are too trapped in their own narrow pathways to look clearly, and see the opportunities that lie ahead.

The first story which opens the film is of Nina (Julia Hummer), a teenage girl bored out of her skull as she works a youth support job picking up trash in a large city park. When she spots a sexual assault in a corner, the film hovers into Antonioni terrain: Is the assault real or imagined? Are Toni (Sabine Timoteo) the victim, and Nina the voyeur, really aware of each other, or is one the figment of the other’s imagination?

Both girls end up being quite real, and strike up a romance of sorts, although really what’s at play is Toni’s toying with Nina as a potential conquest; she tests Nina’s loyalty by participating in petty theft and lies, and becomes more possessive when Nina’s shoplifting of a dress is interrupted by a strange woman named Francoise (Marianne Baslerz) claiming to be her mother.

Francoise’s arrival occurs early into the film in scenes where she’s initially seen as the lover of a fellow Frenchman visiting Berlin. Their relationship is remote, and both share some awful loss that’s later revealed to be the abduction of their three year old daughter.

The film’s midsection involves Francoise’s efforts to prove she’s Nina’s mother (or rather Nina is indeed her lost daughter Marie). Thrown into the conflict is Toni’s magnetic pull on Nina, and their vain and silly efforts to audition for film roles. The couple are later invited to a party by the film’s director (a subdued and rather nebbish Benno Fürmann), where the two girls consummate their relationship. By sunrise, however, it’s clear to Nina that she was just a conquest, and as she wanders through the park, she encounters Francoise, who invites her to breakfast.

Most of these events are perfunctory, and maintain the low-level mystery of whether Nina is indeed Francoise’s daughter; Petzold’s real aim is to bring in an element of truth, have it relegated to the dustbin (literally), and offering neither character a chance at a positive future.

The cruel irony is that Francoise’s honing in on a young girl is part of a damaged psychological pattern her husband has had to handle in the past, and this time Francoise got it right. Nina eventually discovers a clue that tells her the truth, but the fragility of Francoise, as well as Nina’s apathy to her own needs, are what doom both characters to eternal loneliness.

As with Petzold’s prior films (Yella, and Wolfsburg [M]), conversations happen in cars, but more intriguing with Gespenster is a total lack of any stylish architectural iconography that acknowledges the setting as Berlin. In buses, characters are seated by dirty windows, and the park environs are banal; for the latter, Petzold also frames shots to make sure none of the locations can be identified.

Even the party attended by the young girls is photographed in close-ups and medium shots. Main characters wander through rooms decorated in abstract art and primary colours, and any background figures are kept blurry. Even when Nina walks through a crowded room, one feels she doesn’t belong because she’s the only one kept in focus.

Petzold also plays with sounds to illustrate Nina’s immaturity. Whereas Francoise and Toni have their own sense of style and walk with silent confidence, Nina wears bulky work clothes, and her social clumsiness is illustrated by the ongoing sounds as the legs of her ill-fitting jeans scrape against each other.

As a mystery-drama, Gespenster is maybe too low-key, but Petzold narrative doesn’t labour on pretentious details. At under 90 mins., the film has a good pace, and the fragmented nature of the two storylines sustains enough ambiguity towards the characters, ensuring the finale has strong resonance.



© 2009 Mark R. Hasan


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