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Die Innere Sicherheit

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In this post I discuss two films based on the same story-line. In between I rant about the horrors that are media distribution and e-commerce based on buggy software. If that’s too eclectic for you, skip this and come back tomorrow.

Die Innere Sicherheit

German director Christian Petzold got quite a bit of good press for his film Gespenster last year. But I didn’t manage to see it on the few days it ran in local cinemas. So I hoped to simply rent the DVD later on – but it hasn’t been released yet, and according to the lady at the video store it frequently happens with ‘small’ films that getting the rights and publishing a DVD just doesn’t happen because it’s too much effort and too expensive. Which – of course – I find completely ridiculous. All the hard work to actually make the film has been done, all the public film subsidies have already been paid for it and publishing it on DVD shouldn’t add much to that. [I now learned that the DVD will actually be published next month, so there’s hope…]

So while I couldn’t see Gespenster I instead watched Petzold’s film Die Innere Sicherheit instead. It starts with a German family, Clara and Hans with their daughter Jeanne being in Portugal. But soon we learn that Clara and Hans have a ‘terrorist’ background back from the 1970s (interestingly this isn’t made explicit and we never learn what exactly they did) and are now fugitives from the government agencies.

Jeanne is growing up being home-schooled by her parents and constantly changing locations and identities together with her parents, so they don’t get caught. Things turn a little difficult when they run out of money and they return to Hamburg to sort things out. Even contacting old friends is dangerous because they could be (and are) spied on by the government. But the family moves smoothly in that world of danger. Quite naturally moving with the commuters in the morning for example and adapting a life style where they blend in smoothly.

In Hamburg they move into an empty flat that Jeanne learned about from a guy she flirted with in Portugal. And she meets him again as well. Which probably is where the trouble starts.

Shot from the film

That’s our favourite coffee in the product placement, the pack of tomatoes isn’t unknown to student cooking either…

Up to that point the whole family situation had been amazing. Living in the constant danger of being caught and the constant fear of losing their daugher (or parents), the family lived a lifestyle that could be considered really cool. Unlike in most other families (or at least middle-class families) there were real dangers in their lives. And when the parents said ‘move’ because they thought it’ll be dangerous even their teenage daughter moved. The family is very reasonable, what needs to be done gets done and there’s no superfluous talking around. Even difficult issues are dealt with head on because they are comparatively unproblematic to being caught.

For example when Jeanne steals a CD, she gets told off by her parents. But not because they try to teach her that stealing is bad but simply because getting caught will mean having to face the police which is to be avoided at all costs. Of course wanting to have a boyfriend is a problem in that situation as well. And again not for the parents wanting to safeguard their daughter’s virginity but mainly because he could (and does) ask questions about Jeanne’s family and none of the options of shutting up, lying or telling the truth are good ones.

And of course when they have to leave Hamburg again, there’s a dramatic situation where Jeanne is torn between her boyfriend and her parents.

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

Ranty Interlude

I thought this was a rather good film offering not only a view on completely different people and lifestyles, on ‘terrorists’ (a word which I think wasn’t used in the film at all) before that word changed its meaning a few years ago. We see them as smart people, who know how to deal with difficult situations and will handle them without needing to be pushed. And who take care for their daughter even in that difficult situation. Somehow the 1970s left-wing ‘terrorist’ – while violent – seemed to be much more intellectual and fighting for a ‘good cause’ than what the word ‘terrorist’ is used for these days (where the meaning seems to be something between ‘person who wants to kill (or just disagree with) Americans (or Western people)’ and ‘person looking like he’s from the middle east’.

Ah, right, but that’s not what I wanted to rant about. My issue was that I would have liked recommending the film to people who don’t speak German. But it is in German only. Not even English subtitles seem to exist. Well done… shouldn’t that be another thing that’s relatively cheap to make in comparison to the total cost of making a film? Even worse, when digging through some pages of Google results on the topic, it seemed that some Goethe Institute (German cultural institutes abroad) actually have got English subtitles for the film and use them for screenings in England for example – the film’s title Die Innere Sicherheit (literally: The Inner Security / The Securtiy of the Interior) being translated nicely as The State I’m in (which in turn makes me think of that Idlewild son, but never mind…). So subtitles do exist and probably haven been paid for with tax money in some way or another. But they just don’t seem to be available for general consumption by the public. And that sucks because now there’s no way for me to reasonably recommend the film. (Actually I had the very same problem already some years ago with the wonderful film 23.)

Moving On

While Googling around for those subtitles, I learned a number of things. Most prominently that the main storyline of Die Innere Sicherheit was nicked from the American 1988 film Running on Empty. So I tried to get a copy of that one as well. In the video store they didn’t even know it existed, amazon Germany was better but they wanted to charge a ridiculous €30 – by far too much, particularly for someone who doesn’t usually buy DVDs because they’re too expensive at their normal price already. A quick look across the pond showed it’s selling for $10 at amazon.com which seemed much more reasonable (before adding shipping costs).

Then, thanks to more googling, I learned that the film had a different title in Germany (Die Flucht ins Ungewisse) which isn’t listed on IMDB (thanks!), so I didn’t know it. With that info, amazon Germany offered it for €15 which I still consider expensive but which was much more reasonable. Eventually I saw a cheap mass-seller in the U.S. selling those DVD for what ended up being $6 including the shipping to Europe if I didn’t want the jewel case (the original jewel case inlay was included though). And that’s what I went for.

It just took a ridiculous fight with PayPal (for some reason I couldn’t transfer the money through the apparently helpful handling site that the seller used, that site just broke down and had no good error handling, the seller (quite friendly and quick for someone who apparently sold 200000 items on eBay so far) told me that there was a problem with transfers from PayPal Germany at the moment – and I shrugged at the fact that those systems should be different in different countries in the software they use. But as they were using that extra ‘clever’ payment and shipping site and PayPal flat out refused to let me transfer any money without using it, I became a victim of incompetent / lazy programmers once more. So rather than waiting for them to figure out a different way for the payment to go, I asked Dan in the U.K. to transfer the money for me… which eventually worked although there was a certain unclarity in the process as I had entered my German address when first trying to pay and the site would only accept U.K. addresses when he paid. Somehow yet another bug in the site cancelled that bug, though, and everything arrived at my place ten days later… and I could finally see the film.

Running on Empty

As I mentioned above, the story is Running on Empty is pretty much the same as in Die Innere Sicherheit. Just that it’s set in the U.S., that we are in the 1980s, that the parents had blown up a napalm plant in the 1960s, and that they have two boys with whom they move from state to state changing names and looks. Again I was impressed by the relationship of the kids with their parents (although the little brother looks a bit absent minded throughout). And once the older brother falls in love, confusion and problems arise, culminating in the situation where the family has to leave again. In addition, this film includes the story of the older brother being a talented piano player, talented enough to be asked to play in public and to sucessfully apply for the Juilliard school – which brings with it exactly the kind of public scrutiny the family wants to avoid. And thus a difficult decision has to be made which leaves the boy with either the piano or his family.

Oh and who doesn’t want to have a dad who answers a valid question of an outsider about some family habits with It’s a little family tradition resulting from a particularly good LSD trip I had in 1968?

Shot from Running on Empty at the mother's birthday party with everyone wearing silly crowns

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

Conclusion

I thought both films are very good. With Running on Empty being the better one. That’s not only because it is the ‘original’ (unlike many American remakes, say for Abre los Ojos or Nikita, Die Innere Sicherheit does offer a new setup for the story to live in) or because its credits are in Palatino (hmmm) but because it handles the relation between the parents and their son more carefully, it also shows how things can go wrong and how hard it can be to do the ‘right’ thing.

On the other hand, Die Innere Sicherheit looks better. I think this is better filming. But perhaps I’m just fooled by it looking modern and not like the 1980s.

June 21, 2006, 0:01

Tagged as christian petzold, dvd, ebay, film, innere sicherheit, lang:de, running on empty, sidney lumet.

Comments

Comment by Dillan: User icon

God I really do hate the international market sometimes—- I know I have seen Running On Empty on basic american cable a ton of times— but you have to go through all this bullshit to get it. And I can’t get German films that I want, films that I am sure you have no trouble getting.

June 26, 2006, 2:39

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