A film about filmmaking sounds a bit meta. But Kristina Kilian’s video work takes us on a ghostly journey through Godard’s Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall towards very relatable questions about failure.

“‘Please don’t make a film about Godard,’ Hanns said as we parted. ‘Meta meta meta!’”, says the protagonist K (Hannah Schutsch) off-screen in Kristina Kilian’s “Which Way to the West”. Previously she had asked the very same Hanns about his work on Jean-Luc Godard’s “Allemagne 90 neuf zéro”, the work she was referring to and which she wanted to address in her next film. Hanns is the German actor, dramatist, and director Hanns Zischler, who not only acted in it, but also handled the location scouting and travel planning as a kind of artistic director at the time.

For “Allemagne 90 neuf zéro”, in 1990 Godard travelled to the last European country that was still considered communist: the German Democratic Republic, which was then in the process of disintegration. In “Which Way to the West” (2019), Kristina Kilian sends her protagonist, the director K, to former communist East Germany 28 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall: K researches, travels with her film crew to the old film locations, and follows trails. Godard perceived then East Germany as a kind of ghost realm, with the fall of the Wall a kind of border-crossing into reality by the ghosts living in it, as Hanns Zischler explains to her during their conversation.

Godard perceived then East Germany as a kind of ghost realm

For his film, the French director had dug up an old acquaintance from his extensive body of work, the private detective Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine) from the movie “Alphaville”, released in 1965. In “Allemagne 90 neuf zéro”, Lemmy Caution now takes to the screen as an agent who wants to make his way “to the West” after the fall of the Wall and roams through the seemingly ghostly country – interspersed with typically Godardesque reflections on philosophy, art and here, primarily, German history.

Eddie Constantine as Eddie Ross in th film Film »Eddie – Miezen und Moneten« (1963), Image via www.juedische-allgemeine.de

WWTTW Still 3 © 2018 Kristina Kilian

WHICH WAY TO THE WEST

Teaser for Kristina Kilian’s video work

Kilian’s protagonist K, meanwhile, is haunted by entirely different ghosts: From her previous film shoot in Papua New Guinea which focused on the gradual disappearance of the country’s more than 800 independent languages, she has brought back only four recordings of her empty hotel room. As if paralyzed, she isolated herself there, allowing agreed appointments to simply pass by. And the production of the new film likewise keeps stalling – K is unsure what should be shot where; at one point the main actor leaves, and crew members question the seemingly overwhelmed director on why she wants to make the film at all. 

The director’s own history haunts her like a ghost

Her own history of failure seems to haunt this young director time and again like a ghost. As, perhaps, does that of the filmmaker Godard himself: He suffered a nervous breakdown when working on “Allemagne 90 neuf zéro”, and the shoot had to be finished without him, as K says right at the beginning.

WWTTW Still 8 ©2018 Kristina Kilian

Since 2013, Kristina Kilian has been studying at the University of Television and Film in Munich, having previously studied scenography and exhibition design in Karlsruhe. With “Which Way to the West”, which won an award at the 65th Oberhausen International Short Film Festival, Kilian formally borrows from the structure of a film essay: She collages self-shot scenes with archive footage, while the voiceover contextualizes what is shown and creates new contexts.

In one of these archive excerpts, she shows Godard in an interview: The camera is a device, similar to a microscope, which makes it possible to actually see people as they truly are, the filmmaker explains there. And thus Kilian looks at Godard through the eyes of her protagonist, while in turn, through his eyes we see Germany and its history, which throws everyone involved back on themselves. The “meta meta meta” here is not at all as abstract as it might sound. In this case, seeing means thinking with a different way of understanding.

WWTTW Still 2 ©2018 Kristina Kilian
WWTTW Still 10 ©2018 Kristina Kilian
WWTTW Still 4 ©2018 Kristina Kilian

As her second film, Kilian has selected Oskar Roehler’s “The Untouchable” (2000). Ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the director explores the last few months in the life of his mother, the writer Gisela Elsner, who here is given the name Hannah Flanders. The film begins on the evening when the Wall fell and shows the desperate author on the verge of suicide due to the political events of the country (Gisela Elsner’s strong attachment to East German communism, which she had stylized into a dream image from a safe distance in Munich, is amply documented). Just before the end, a friend is able to prevent her suicide and, true to the principle that reaction follows resignation, she spontaneously moves to Berlin. Once there, she is confronted with the discrepancy between imagined and actual reality in former East Germany. From one situation to the next, she stumbles incredulously through a world that no longer seems to be hers and perhaps in fact never was. Disillusionment in the political sphere follows that of her private life, when she ultimately decides to leave Berlin again.

The film begins on the evening of the fall of the Berlin Wall

With great sensitivity and without any kind of soppy sentimentality, in “The Untouchable” Oskar Roehler presents his mother’s break with reality, thanks in part to Hannelore Elsner’s impressive acting. The crossing of the dividing line from the realm of ghosts into reality, as Godard described the fall of the Wall, culminates here in the end of an existence, or even: in the complete disappearance into the spirit realm. And at the end of “Which Way to the West”, Kristina Kilian’s protagonist K is left with merely an idea of how she originally wanted to stage her film, which actually never found its way into reality.

Oskar Roehler, Die Unberührbare (Filmstill), 2000, Image via m.imdb.com

With great sensitivity and without any kind of soppy sentimentality, in “The Untouchable” Oskar Roehler presents his mother’s break with reality, thanks in part to Hannelore Elsner’s impressive acting. The crossing of the dividing line from the realm of ghosts into reality, as Godard described the fall of the Wall, culminates here in the end of an existence, or even: in the complete disappearance into the spirit realm. And at the end of “Which Way to the West”, Kristina Kilian’s protagonist K is left with merely an idea of how she originally wanted to stage her film, which actually never found its way into reality.

DOUBLE FEATURE WITH KRISTINA KILIAN

Wednesday, 27 October 2021, 7.30 PM

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