Unsettling Cinema

German Director Christian Petzold

Dec. 16, 2013
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For those who consider him one of contemporary Germany’s most important directors, Christian Petzold holds the torch carried in the 1970s by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Werner Herzog. In his perceptive critical biography, simply called Christian Petzold (published by University of Illinois Press), Jaimey Fisher sees the filmmaker as an exemplary cultural figure in post-reunification Germany for his wariness over the country’s history as well as its newfound eagerness to embrace Reagan-Thatcher economics. With their sense of dislocation, Petzold’s films draw their emotions from his own biography. His parents were refugees from East Germany and formerly German lands in Eastern Europe. He grew up on the go. Little wonder that moving automobiles often feature as key settings.

Petzold has won many awards in his homeland but is little known in the U.S., where his films have been shown mainly in festivals and university programs. Refusing to acknowledge boundaries between art house and genre movies, Petzold’s best-known production in America, Jerichow, is essentially a retelling of The Postman Always Rings Twice in the former East Germany with an ambitious entrepreneur of Middle Eastern origin, his fetching German wife and a German drifter who works for him (and plans his murder). In Fisher’s interview with the director, which forms a significant portion of the book, Petzold discusses the “transitional space” of his childhood, which perhaps was an ideal grounding for a cinema concerned with uprooted individuals and an unsettled society.

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