- Camera Obscura 15.2 Camera Obscura 15.2 (2000) 177-200
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Effervescent Otherness in Doris Dörrie's Nobody Loves Me
INTERVIEWER: Do you believe in the multicultural society?
SALMAN RUSHDIE: What is the alternative? Do we all want to live in little boxes?
--Claus Leggewie, Multi Kulti (1993)
An early scene in Doris Dörrie's Keiner liebt mich [Nobody loves me] (Germany, 1994) shows a tight close-up of diverse bodies sharing the dilapidated elevator of a high-rise housing complex with Arabic graffiti lining the walls around them. When the new building manager asks what sort of neighbors they would prefer, a man emphatically answers: "No drinkers, musicians, children, Turks, and Italians." Ignoring the handwriting on the wall, he not only denies the reality of a multicultural Germany, but also the forms of diversity right there under his nose. The film highlights in many ways such willful blindness to difference, as characters isolate themselves within modern apartment dwellings, even as African music follows them through the walls. Fanny Fink (Maria Schrader), the film's lead female protagonist, obstinately dresses [End Page 177] in black, not only as a marker of her obsession with death, but also as a direct contrast to an increasingly colorful Germany around her. At the same time, what seems like willful isolation merely mirrors the material and existential conditions of modern life. Fanny's self-styled coffin is no more than a smaller version of the boxlike confines of her apartment. And just as she learns in her Conscious Dying course how to commit suicide by placing a plastic bag over her head and taking sleeping pills, Fanny also witnesses the gradual encasement of her building's derelict hallways in plastic drop cloths, preparations for apartments to be transformed into the ultimate individualistic paradise--the condo. If Nobody Loves Me, as Dörrie claims, aims to poke fun at Germans' purported depressive tendencies, tendencies that belie a relatively high standard of living and level of material comfort, it does so by gradually dismantling the walls that separate characters like Fanny Fink from diversity, color, and, most importantly, from life. But if she is transformed in the process, it is important to assess the extent to which the "color" that eventually pervades her life remains a tangible presence that refigures her identity or merely fades to the status of backdrop, of unheeded writing on the wall.
An extensive body of German films that examine Germany's increasingly diverse populace have emerged in recent years. Yet recognition of such films has been long in coming, since many of them received scant attention in Germany and virtually no distribution in the US. Eager American Germanists attuned to German film since the glory days of New German Cinema have scarcely taken note of this new, albeit hardly visible body of film. 1 Dörrie's film, a rare commodity for having actually made it into distribution in the US, should serve as a gefundenes Fressen or "found feast" for Germanists everywhere, enabling them to examine Germany's relations--both real and imagined--with its "cultural others" at this particular historical moment. In program notes for a film series on foreigners in German film, Eric Rentschler writes that for many displaced individuals living in Germany, "the contemporary Heimat has become increasingly uninhabitable, indeed unheimlich." He also argues, [End Page 178]
These new German films, for all their diversity, share a common awareness of disorientation and disquiet as traditional borders become blurred and old certainties cease to apply. These blurred boundaries and uncertain identities serve as backdrops for this intriguing collection of films made in the Federal Republic of Germany during the last half-decade. 2
If "blurred borders" speak to African music seeping through apartment walls, then "uncertain identities" in Dörrie's film beg the question: Whose identities? And just which piece of Germany's increasingly diverse fabric serves as backdrop? In examining any of these films, it is important to ask whether foreigners, despite their undeniable presence, remain a troubling background noise for...