We have often heard the complaint that ‘growing up is hard to do’, but what was it like for the impoverished youth of East Germany who grew up around the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall? A time when a nation was finally reunited, after many years torn apart by division and a GDR under the hard, cold glare of the Stasi.
Competing for the Golden Bear in the 2015 Berlinale is a home grown effort from director Andreas Dressen taking aim at the period. Set in the Leipzig suburbs and based on author Clemens Meyer’s 2006 novel, As We Were Dreaming charts the fortunes of a gang of teenagers adjusting to the changing landscape of the country and the hormonal preoccupations of their age.
The problems with As We Were Dreaming are fairly easy to diagnose. Although stylishly constructed, there is no empathetic entry point to the narrative. There is no one to root for. Whilst we might accept that the troupe are profligate delinquents, they fail to elicit any comprehension of their actions at any point, even after they face the fists of their rivals. Accordingly, the diegetic arc for character growth is pretty much non-existent. Instead, there is the relentless and wilful annihilation of everything, including themselves. It is something that becomes increasingly wearing as time ticks by.
Dressen paints the East with more than a touch of stereotype, with textbook dilapidation and widespread graffiti, neo-Nazis and impecuniosity. Rightly or wrongly, all of this is presented as a deadly cocktail, offering a lack of stimulation that breeds destructive impulses.
Whereas a German film such as Dennis Gansel’s The Wave (2008) was flawed, it was memorable for combining character and message, whereas this is simply an exercise in observation alone. Although powerful in certain sections – a wonderful collision between parent and his son’s recalcitrant company is compelling, as is a nightclub gun scene – it more often than not leaves the viewer looking at their watch almost as much as the screen.
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