Sunday, October 23, 2011

BERLIN & BEYOND 2011—If Not Us, Who? (Wer wenn nicht wir)

[Our thanks to Kurtiss Hare for his review of the West Coast premiere of Berlin & Beyond's closing night entry If Not Us, Who? (Wer wenn nicht wir), directed by Andres Veiel (in attendance on closing night).]

This year's Berlin & Beyond festival, hosted at the ever magnificent Castro Theatre, is in progress, running from Oct. 20th-26th. As I'm set to begin day three of the festival, I'm carving some time out to preview the closing night film, If Not Us, Who?

Books, it seems, can be burnt. But the stories we're told and the lessons we learn as children have a sort of dogged persistence—a way of pinning our sleeves to the cork, whether we stretch this way or that. Bernward Vesper grew up in the half-light of post Nazi Germany. His father was an author and editor whose career choices allowed him to flourish under the authoritarian, deeply revisionist regime that defined a previous generation. When Will Vesper passes away, he leaves Bernward a messy inheritance: an insubordinate love for the opposite literature of radical resistance, an abiding sense of shame around his father's body of fascist work, and a self-sworn promise to republish a handful of his dad's propagandist pamphlets. When Bernward meets Gudrun Ensslin at the University of Tübingen, the two form a troubled publishing company and a more troubled romance.
If Not Us, Who? outlines the embroiled personal milestones along Bernward's path toward becoming one of the fundamental voices of revolution in 1960s Germany.

What is most interesting in
If Not Us, Who? is the manner in which a set of conflicted attitudes find their home in Bernward, who might be called a rebel son of the Reich. The question, "Why should a triangle shrink into a straight line?” issued flippantly by Gudrun before initiating a lusty threesome, could reasonably be posed of Bernward's inward motivations. As he descends into a wall-scribbling madness, I only wish that some of his neurotic energy had infected the cinematics. The camera swung with a gravitas and convention that made me wish it too was railing against some dumb quotidien or hostile occupier.

Cross-published on Cinefrisco.

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