- The Day I was Not Born
In his seminal article “From the New German Cinema to Post-Wall Cinema of Consensus” (2000), film historian Eric Rentschler claims that most German movies in the 1990s were devoid of substance, conviction, and deeper meaning. Furthermore, Rentschler states that the domestic film production of this decade was dominated by a formula-bound profusion of romantic comedies, road movies, and literary adaptations. Above all the film industry was star-driven, and peopled with familiar actors and actresses for the German TV-screen. That is to say, unlike the visionary films of the 70s and 80s by Fassbinder, Herzog or von Trotta, German movies of the 90s sought to entertain rather than enlighten the masses.
However, in the first decade of the new millennium, two noteworthy developments have revived the German film scene. First, the critically acclaimed and commercially successful “heritage movies,” such as Napola (2004), Downfall (2004) and The Lives of Others (2006), hit in rapid succession domestic and international box offices. These high-end productions feature thickly layered mise-en-scènes to evoke nostalgia for a bygone past, rather than probing its socio-political contradictions and traumas, thus they tend to [End Page 122] satisfy preexisting conceptions of German history. As film scholar Marco Abel puts it: “That these films’ appeal to international audiences was hardly coincidental, for it is as if they (pathologically) wanted to corroborate the ideologically convenient belief perpetuated abroad that Germany is still almost exclusively reducible to its Nazi past.” Accordingly, the common feature of the “heritage movies” is that they all deal with some aspect of Germany’s totalitarian legacy.
The second development is the appearance of the celebrated, yet commercially struggling “Berlin School Films,” a loosely organized group of young film directors Thomas Arslan (Dealer, 1999), Christian Petzold (The State I am In, 2000), and Angela Schanelec (Marseille, 2004), who all graduated from the German Film and Television Academy Berlin. Soon filmmakers from other film schools around the country like Christoph Hochhäusler (This Very Moment, 2003), Benjamin Heisenberg (Sleeper, 2005) or Maria Speth (The Days Between, 2008) adapted a similar aesthetic program for their own productions. Unlike “heritage movies,” the “Berlin School” films portray contemporary everyday life and privilege long takes and shots. They pay keen attention to precise framing, use extra-diegetic music and sound intermittently, and austere mise-en-scènes aim for reflection rather than representation. Such an auteur aestheticism sparked the interest of movie buffs home and abroad; especially in France, where film critics from Cahiers du Cinema to Le Monde were enthusiastic, since the Berlin school filmmakers reminded them to Roehmer, Godard or Rivette. Tellingly, French journalists called the Berlin School “Nouvelle Vague Allemande.” While the German filmmakers themselves deny the existence of a unifying visual style among the various group members, their similar take on filmic form and content renders them as a movement.
Although the young filmmaker Florian M. Cossen has not been subsumed under the umbrella of the Berlin School, one senses an elective affinity between Cossen and the Berlin School directors through their equally affective and subjective style. Born in Tel Aviv in 1979, Cossen grew up in Israel, Canada, Spain, Costa Rica and Germany. Until recently, he studied film directing at the Baden-Wuerttemberg Film Academy in Ludwigsburg. His debut film, The Day I Was Not Born (2010), features a young woman who comes to terms with having been secretly adopted by a German couple during the Argentinean military dictatorship. With a modest budget, the production was shot almost exclusively in Buenos Aires, and Cossen has already been nominated for best directing by the German Film Academy in 2011. The original title Das Lied in Mir (The Song within Me) alludes to the director’s desire to portray the emotional impact on separated families, rather than representing the history of dictatorship in Argentina. Resisting the temptation to reveal the story of a vanished girl chronologically, the filmic images create a sensuous [End Page 123] affect of the protagonist’s family loss and secrets...