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Up in Smoke
by Pat Frickey

Now that it is 2019 we thought cigarette smoking was on the wane. In our social and work circles smokers, like pariahs, are forced to go outside to get a nicotine fix. In the September 30, 2019, issue of Time in an article about the rise of JUUL it states: “Halving cigarette-smoking rates since the 1960s remains one of America’s biggest public-health triumphs.” Die Welt, September 19, 2019, bemoans the loss of jobs in the tobacco industry in an article entitled “Die Letzte Zigarette.”

Somehow the filmmakers didn’t get the memo.

Lately our team of journalists has been aware of this trend in films. We decided to keep an observant eye on smoking, not sure exactly if it had always been there or has been creeping stealthily back into films. This is not a scientific attempt to record cigarette smoking in films. All of our observations are anecdotal. When deeply involved in the plot it’s an easy thing to miss.

Of the 88 films we watched, 36 had at least one person smoking a cigarette. We didn’t include pipe or pot smoking in our survey, though there was a smattering of each.

ECHO and THE BARE NECESSITY had the only e-cigarettes.

There were films with lots and lots of smoking: ALL ALONE, DAS GEHEIMNIS EINES LEADERS, ON A MAGICAL NIGHT, THE RAGGED LIFE OF JUICE LESKINEN, SPIDER, CORPUS CHRISTI, and REDEMPTION. Sometimes it was obviously reflecting an earlier era, but not always. In DIE SCHÖNSTE ZEIT UNSERES LEBENS the extras recreating the flashback scenes in 1974 were sitting in a French café puffing away; all loudly cheered when the director told them they could put out their cigarettes. The main character smoked throughout.

Remarkably only two films had the after-sex cigarette, CORPUS CHRISTI and WILD ROSE.

Sometimes there was a casual solitary smoker: 100 KILO STERNE and MOSAIC PORTRAIT. More often a solitary smoker was deep in thought: the soldier and policeman in TLAMESS, the young girl in LINGUA FRANCA, and the depressed mother in EINE KOLONIE. In DEATH WILL COME AND SHALL HAVE YOUR EYES there were two poignant smoking scenes. One with the terminally ill Maria who smoked alone in the woods the last time she walked there. The other was when her partner Ana smoked alone in the woods after she had died. In VITALINA VARELA, right before her death, an old lady quietly smoked a cigarette for about 30 seconds. It was the only smoking in the whole movie.

In both AS HAPPY AS POSSIBLE and BRUNO a single person had a conversation with a nonsmoker.

Another common scenario was two characters smoking together as a form of camaraderie: DAS LEUCHTURN, PELIKANBLUT (first date), and SAG MIR WER ICH BIN.

Ever since REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE moviegoers anticipate the whiff of rebellion and defiance with the sight of a cigarette. In BEATS and TRANSNISTRA it was teenagers smoking. In MATERNAL it was also a rebellious lost teenager who smoked; she also cruelly popped her young daughter’s balloon with a cigarette. In BRUDERHERZ 35-year-old Sophia smoked to provoke her brother. In 10 TAGE OHNE MAMA a 40ish mama smoked with her sister plotting her holiday escape. Martin evolved from a handsome hunk to an embittered, decadent, and enraged old man in MARTIN EDEN and picked up the nicotine habit as he aged. In DAS ROTE COUPÉ the office workers sneaked cigarettes in the kitchen. In SOUTH TERMINAL the doctor smoked; in THE BARE NECESSITY the teacher smoked in front of her pupils. In HERZDAME the stepmother slipped away from her own dinner party with her stepson to go to smoke cigarettes in the bar, a signal that she was a cougar on the prowl with her prey.

There were films where the characters complained about others smoking: BAD POEMS, SOUTH TERMINAL, CORPUS CHRISTI, MARTIN EDEN, and THE RAGGED LIFE OF JUICE LESKINEN.

We didn’t count DAS WUNDER VON MARSEILLE, but cigarettes were a theme. The unconventional chess teacher Sylvain (Gerard Depardieu) made jokes telling his young players to take a cigarette break so he could be alone; however probably no one ever really smoked.

The animated film BOMBAY ROSE, on the other hand, was infused with cigarettes. People smoked in the film. An old woman said about another man already deceased, “How he would wish that we were all cigarettes hanging from his lips.” Later someone said, “Worse than smoking cigarettes is sneakiness.” The grandfather had a stand where he repaired toys and music boxes and there was a string hanging from this stand with a cigarette lighter on it, so that anyone could light up whenever they liked.

There were two films in which a cigarette played a pivotal role in the plots. In ALLES AUSSER GEWÖHNLICH the most dramatic moment was when caregiver Dylan stepped out for a quick smoke, and his patient Valentin escaped through a window in the dead of night. In THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON Tyler intentionally soaked his competitors’ crab pots in gasoline, then dramatically set them ablaze with a lit cigarette. It was the most destructive cigarette in any film.