The film essay

In our modern world film is a powerful tool that can show its audience many issues in society through different perspectives. Directing a piece of film, the director is given the opportunity to show us exactly what they want us to see, making a film a subjective reality that they have created. A film manipulates the viewers perspective as every scene has been carefully thought out by the director no matter how much of the content is based on fact. In this respect, films are simulated life as they are not just windows onto our historical world. In watching a film, we accept what is put in front of us and as such become voyeurs, directed by the camera lens. Even if we do not agree with what we see, by being spectators we are giving the film validity and afterwards are able to interpret the directors message in our own way. When reading a book each individuals understanding is different in terms of what the characters and places look like etc. In a film everyone sees the same thing which has been chosen by the director to give a certain perspective. In this essay I intend to discuss to what extent the director conveys a subjective reality in Knallhart through the use of film techniques.

The film Knallhart was released in 2006 and was directed by German director Detlev Buck. Knallhart was well received winning two awards at the Berlin International Film Festival, it also won Best Soundtrack, Best Editing and Outstanding Feature Film at the German Film Awards.[1] The film is set in Neukölln in Berlin and was filmed on location. The main themes in the film are that of circumstance, choice, underworld activity and life in a multicultural society. The film shows complications of living in a multicultural society and problems with integration in Germany, although it has to be observed not as fact but as the directors subjective reality. In contrast to the concept of different cultures living together harmoniously in a multicultural melting pot, Knallhart shows the salad bowl of different cultures clashing and not merging together into a single homogeneous culture. Instead of showing fully functioning multicultural society it shows the problems with such a wide range of cultures living together. Germany is home to many different nationalities and a third of all children born in Germany belong to immigrant families[2], despite this, many immigrants are poorly integrated into German society in some cases, even immigrants who have been living there for three generations. This is particularly problematic for Turkish immigrants who make up approximately three million of Germany's eighty-two million population.

Knallhart follows fifteen year old Michael Polischka, who's mother is thrown out of her wealthy boyfriend Dr. Peters luxury home in the affluent area of Zehlendorf. Michael and his mother are forced to move to the deprived Berlin suburb of Neukoelln as his mother is unemployed and has no means of income. They go from living a comfortable lifestyle supported by Dr. Peters wealth to a run down area with very basic commodities, the gardens are full of rubbish, the flat is furnished only with the necessities and the walls are so thin that they can even hear their neighbours talking. On entering their new home the director cuts to shots of the huge tower blocks, the rubbish covered gardens and the overflowing bins, all of which are filmed with minimal lighting, everything looks dark and grey which reinforces the bleak conditions of their new neighbourhood. Inside their new apartment everything is bare, the walls are all painted white and there is nothing interesting or inspiring. It becomes apparent to the viewer that Michael and his mother will have to radically adjust their lifestyles in order to adapt to their new environment.

A memorable scene early on in the film shows Michael on his first day at his new school in Neukölln. The classroom is noisy, students are throwing paper aeroplanes, there are many late comers and it becomes apparent that education is not at the forefront of their minds. There are also various different nationalities represented in the classroom. Neukölln is well known for having a high percentage of immigrants, particularly of Turkish descent. It is a very densely populated area and immigrants represent up to fifty percent.[3] In some primary schools in northern Neukölln up to ninety-five percent of the pupils mother tongue is not German and in secondary schools this figure is around eighty percent. In several schools in the area up to ninety-eight percent of the students have no German origin.[4] As Michael looks around the class, the surroundings are shown through his eyes, upbeat music is played and the viewer is shown students sleeping on their desks and the teacher spending most of his time telling pupils off. The general mood created is that of disorder and lack of motivation in contrast to the view of a school being a place of discipline and education. The viewers attention is also brought to the different nationalities in the class. It echoes the problems that a classroom with various nationalities might have. All of the students are shouting and talking over each other making it impossible to learn anything, nothing is coherent and this is perhaps a reality for some students whose first language is not German as they will have problems in understanding instructions. According to a study published in Der Spiegel in 2009 as many as thirty percent of immigrants of Turkish origin leave school without completing their Abitur and only fourteen percent go on to further education.[5] This lack of education is detrimental for job prospects with as many as thirty-eight percent of immigrants in some parts of Neukölln unemployed.[6]

We see evidence of the multicultural society everywhere in the film, every street shot the director shows different nationalities on the streets; various different food stalls from all over the world, women wearing head scarves; all of these make the viewer aware of the different cultures in this area. The film also brings out issues in society that are usually not advertised; criminal activity, drug dealing, under age drinking, gambling and teenage pregnancies. Michaels mother had him when she was only fifteen years old, making the viewer aware of the problems that she has had to overcome as a young single mother. The issues discussed in the film are not isolated to Neukölln - although the problems here are to a greater extent than most other German cities.

One of the scenes that leaves a lasting effect is when Michael sees a young man struggling to get his pram up the stairs of an underground train station, instinctively he takes one end of the pram to help and then the camera slows down and zooms into the young man's face, revealing that he is Michaels' enemy; gang leader Erol. Previously the director has only shown Erol portrayed in a negative way, as a bully who only understands the language of violence and who is victimising newcomer Michael and threatening him if he fails to keep up with his demands for money. This scene is important as it shows Erol in a more humane manner, as a young man with two children and no real career prospects or opportunities. The viewer is given a small insight into Erol's life and even though it is a very short scene, it shows enough for the viewer to see Erol as a person and begin to try to understand the reasons behind his aggressive nature. As a violent thug it is hard to relate to Erol but here it is shown that he is not invincible and has is own problems to deal with. When the young men become aware of each others identity, their eyes lock and they proceed up the stairs filmed in slow motion, which increases the tension between the pair. When they arrive at the top of the stairs, Erol nods to Michael as a form of acknowledgement but they do not speak to each other, yet this small gesture is telling as it shows gratitude but the characters also seem to acknowledge their distance and the fact that they are aware that they are playing out the roles that society expects from them and are unable to see an alternative. Due to lack of education Erol has no career prospects and it will be difficult for him to break the cycle of violence and theft that is part of his everyday life. From a Turkish background, Erol also faces problems with integration and as he is never shown in a school environment it becomes apparent that the director is using Erol as an example of the poor level of qualifications from Turkish immigrants in Germany.

Michael is portrayed by the director in a different light from Erol, he is always wearing white, symbolic of innocence and he also has a childlike face, Hamal also comments on his "ehrliches Gesicht" during the film. The director has cast the actor for these reasons. The director is playing with the viewers expectations of people through pre-judgements,association and experience. Michael's fresh faced, youthful appearance disconnects him from the criminal world that he is deeply involved in, he even manages to escape the police on a drugs raid at a park when he is the one who is selling a large quantity of cannabis. Michael is also given another skill by the director that Erol does not have - his character has the ability to change. This is shown at the end of the film where he turns himself into the police, it is clear that he wants to break out of the situation he is in and by facing up to what he has done then he can begin to rebuild his new life. Erol was not given the opportunity to change which is perhaps echoing the fact that many Turkish immigrants in Berlin are reluctant to embrace German culture fully and many have difficulties with the language, in turn this is hindering their education and employment prospects and they are therefore not developing in society just as the character of Erol does not develop any further in the film. The director uses these subtle techniques of character development to make a statement about the different groups in this multicultural society through the subjective reality that he has created.

Just after the scene where Michael shoots Erol, Michaels' attention focuses on a fox that is walking past to get a drink from a the nearby river. This is a powerful piece of imagery as it connects the lifestyle of a fox to that of the individuals in the film who are underdogs in society. Like the people in the society shown in the film, foxes have to try their best to survive against the odds. They are not naturally city dwellers but have to do what they need to do in order to survive, in a sense this is what the people in this film are doing. Michael and his mother have to adjust from their life in Zehlendorf to living in Neukölln and the characters with non German roots also have to adjust to their lives in Germany but at the same time hold onto their own identity. The viewer is often shown cultural items such as Turkish and Arabic food and hookah pipes as non German cultural influences in this society.

In the society Buck has created in Knallhart the characters equate power and status with money as the reason for all the conflicts is over money. From Dr. Peters arrogance at the fact that he has power over Miriam as he uses his wealth as a tool against her, to Erols demands from Michael. Overall the director shows that the problems of gang violence and criminal activity are not just problems in this particular society and they also are not just problems of people with Turkish roots in Germany. Germans are also represented in the underworld activities such as Captain Nemo who buys valuables (usually stolen) and pays only a fraction of their actual worth to the people who are desperate for money. Through employing various different film techniques Buck creates a film that has created no "goodies" or "baddies", the viewer is made aware of all the characters flaws and problems. The issues with problems of integration in a multicultural society raised in the film seem to be a comment from the director on the role of the whole of society in helping these situations. Directed by the camera lens the viewers are forced to watch issues in society that they may feel disconnected from yet society should try to overcome these problems together. It is something that the Government needs to address to influence successful integration and offer more education opportunities and language help to those whose mother tongue is not German. Through the subjective reality Buck has created he is also drawing attention to tensions between different cultural groups living in a heterogeneous society. Buck has heightened the tension between cultural groups and given the viewer an exaggerated insight into a society where everyone is looking out for themselves rather than each other.

  • "Knallhart", IMDb, 21 Sept. 2007, 20 March 2010. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0475317/>
  • "Survey Shows Alarming Lack of Integration in Germany", Spiegel Online: 1 Jan. 2009, 20 March 2010 <http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,603588,00.html>
  • "Intercultural City: Berlin Neukölln Germany", Council of Europe: 20 March 2010 <http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/cultureheritage/culture/cities/neukolln_en.asp>
  • "Intercultural City: Berlin Neukölln Germany", Council of Europe: 20 March 2010 http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/cultureheritage/culture/cities/neukolln_en.asp>
  • "Study Says Turks are Germany's Worst Integrated Immigrants", The Local: 25 Jan. 2009, 20 March 2010 <http://www.thelocal.de/society/20090125-16987.html>
  • "Intercultural City: Berlin Neukölln Germany", Council of Europe: 20 March 2010 <http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/cultureheritage/culture/cities/neukolln_en.asp>

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