15 December 2006 | Camera-Obscura
Laidback portrait of life in Kreuzberg-36
BERLIN BLUES (Leander Haussmann - Germany 2003).
The film is set during the fall of 1989 in the run-down West-Berlin neighbourhood of Kreuzberg 36, an isolated corner of the city right next to the Berlin wall, mainly populated by a collection of misfits, artists, philosophers and drop-outs of all kinds. This is the world of Frank, alias Herr Lehmann (Christian Ulmen), who works as a bartender, takes live as it comes and generally lives in a pleasant bubble, unaware of the major events occurring in the outside world. His friend Karl (Detlev Buck), an artist who builds huge metal constructions, works in another bar, as does Katrin (Katja Danowski), the new chef, with whom he soon starts a turbulent relationship.
There are quite a few well-observed hilarious observations about Herr Lehmann's life in Kreuzberg, like an encounter with a whiskey-drinking dog, a confrontation with his visiting parents, a chaotic visit to East-Berlin and trouble in a gay-bar with "leather-Lily." The film's backdrop, with the fall of the Berlin wall in November 1989, Herr Lehmann's adventures seem to assume a certain importance, somewhat impaired with the occasionally flimsy and ridiculous occurrences in his life. In any other setting, the film would probably be less memorable than it is now. But that's probably the essential element what makes it work on many levels. The setting, Kreuzberg, and time in history, 1989, are the most potent ingredients for the film's relevance.
The late eighties' atmosphere is well served, with a good soundtrack by Eels, Violent Femmes, Calexico, Ween, Cake and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. Above all, I watched this with great pleasure, because I lived in this particular part of Berlin and it still is my absolute favorite part of the city. It seems very little has changed since 1989. Many of the bar scenes were shot in Café "Zum Elefanten" on Heinrichplatz, typically the kind of place where the interior and personnel hasn't changed since 1970. The kind of place where you only come to get served, get a drink and talking is restricted to a minimum.
Frank Griebe, who also lensed Tom Tykwer's LOLA RENNT (1998), did the cinematography, but here it's not nearly as flashy as in as in LOLA RENNT. Whether that's a good or thing or not, i'll leave that decision to you. And, as one other commenter from that proud Hanseatic city in Northern-Germany already noted, the film displays one of the most conspicuous product placements in recent German film.
Camera Obscura --- 7/10