© eOne/Paramount

Berlin Alexanderplatz
Germany/The Netherlands/France/Canada 2020

Opening 30 Jul 2020

Directed by: Burhan Qurbani
Writing credits: Martin Behnke, Alfred Döblin, Burhan Qurbani
Principal actors: Albrecht Schuch, Jella Haase, Joachim Król, Nils Verkooijen, Welket Bungué

Francis (Welket Bunqué) flees his African home in Bissau-Guinea and literally pulls himself up onto a foreign beach. He eventually lands in Berlin, where he works in a factory, sleeps in a room along with other African refugees, and misses the sun, saying “Soon I will be white.” His goal is to learn the culture and “be good” in every correct and legal way. He teaches himself German and fails in an affair with Amira, who finds him to be “not a real man.” In this situation Reinhold (Albrecht Schuch) appears and offers him and other refugees “help” with better-paid jobs, i.e., selling drugs. Francis (now Franz) loses his job because of helping an injured man. With no other options, he befriends Reinhold, not as a drug dealer, but as a cook who wheels meals in a baby carriage to the neighborhoods where the drug dealers hang out. Reinhold, who seems more and more narcissistic and possibly insane, only works for himself. Pums (Joachim Król) and Eva (Annabelle Mandeng) care for Franz when he loses his arm in an accident. He pairs up with Mieze (also called Kitty, played by Jella Haase) In spite of all efforts for independence (and even legal residency), he always has the feeling that he is sinking, much as if he were still swimming from an African beach. There is connection to prostitution and a strip club, being a pimp, a bodyguard, a robber. “It’s difficult to avoid the devil after having invited him.”

This life of a refugee in Berlin is divided into five parts plus an epilogue stretching over 183 minutes, and, if I understood correctly, told throughout by Kitty. It is supported by 19 songs which often make the atmosphere thrilling, even scary, as we await the next downfall. Berlin Alexander Platz is based on a book of the same title by Alfred Döblin which appeared in 1929. Several of my colleagues remember reading it for their high school diplomas (Abitur) in the 1970-80s. In the book version Franz is a German, released from prison after having served for murder. In the book’s nine sections, he attempts to survive amid destructive surroundings. The film version expertly follows the plot of the book, changing it into modern times. These problems are universal, no matter one’s race or origin. See the film in order to become familiar with a tradition in German literature and also to witness expert actors, especially Albrecht Schuch, Jella Haase, Welket Bunqué, and Annabelle Mandeng. This played in competition at the 2020 Berlinale. (Becky Tan)

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