Thursday, May 16, 2013

Christiane F. (Uli Edel, 1981)

Just recently, I decided to cease watching a culturally irrelevant reality show that I had been diligently tuning into for the past twelve years. (I know, what a colossal waste of time). Now, I don't want to say the name of the particular program, especially not out loud, as I would rather not sully this space with its stupid ass name. But let's just say, it's one the original shows that launched the so-called reality show craze that has been infecting our attention deficit disorder-laden consciousness like a bad head cold for nearly a decade and a half. Am I attempting to compare my decision to stop to watching a television show to heroin withdrawal? No, I am not. What I'm doing is, I'm trying to tap into the mindset of an addict. You see, I'm not addicted to anything. Sure, I'm addicted to glamour. But then again, who isn't? Seriously, though, forced Party Monster references aside, I can't picture myself getting to a place where I'm desperate enough to sell my Universal Indicator (Red) 12 inch to a guy on the street for seventeen bucks in order to feed my debilitating drug habit. Well, at least not when I was fourteen. And that's exactly the age of the protagonist who wanders, well, staggers, she mostly staggers, the austere nooks and crannies of  the Bahnhof Zoo in Christiane F., the gritty West Berlin-set drug addiction movie that manages to depress and inspire in equal measure. Yes, I'm afraid, as downbeat as this film is, it will cause a fair amount of inspiration. Of course, I'm not implying that the film, directed by Uli Edel and based on the non-fiction book Christiane F. – We Children from Bahnhof Zoo, will motivate young people to dabble with intravenous drug use and teenage prostitution. What I am saying is, it will inspire young people to become David Bowie fans. And the powers that be don't want that, as they fear The Thin White Duke. They fear him? The guy who's married to Iman and sang "China Girl"? I can see them fearing Judas Priest or Motörhead, but David Bowie? You bet they do. Bands like the one's I just mentioned inspire nothing more than uncouth behaviour in parking lots. On the other hand, David Bowie inspires creativity and open-mindedness in others.
Unfortunately, none of that occurs to a Berlin teenager named Christiane (Natja Brunckhorst), who contradicts everything I just said about David Bowie fans by going on the world's most dramatic downward spiral. "Oh my T V C one five, oh oh, T V C one five."
When we first meet Christiane, she seems like the last person you'd expect to see turning tricks to buy junk. But that's the power of liquid sky, it can alter the DNA of even the most innocuous of souls.
Looming large over the proceedings, the music of David Bowie drives the early scenes of the movie (the eerie "V-2 Schneider" opens the film). However, it's a poster for a niteclub called simply "Sound," Europe's latest discotheque, that pushes Christiane toward her date with cult movie infamy. Using a well-connected friend, Kessi (Daniela Jaeger), Christiane is able to enter its neon-adorned doors with minimal hassle (the age requirement to enter is apparently sixteen, but they don't seem that interested in enforcing it).  Surveying the scene with a wide-eyed sense of  wonder, Christiane orders a "cherry juice" and absorbs the glossy splendour percolating before her very eyes, as David Bowie's "Look Back in Anger" ("waiting so long, I've been waiting so...") blasts triumphantly in the background.
On top of being the place to listen to David Bowie music while sipping on cherry juice, Sound also has its own movie theatre. Playing Night of the Living Dead, Christiane is set up with some guy who is all hands. Unimpressed by his pawing antics, Christiane heads to the washroom to try the acid she was given. As she's doing so, she spots a guy passed out in one of the stalls with a needle sticking out of in his arm. Thinking he's dead, Christiane runs out of the club, where she proceeds to vomit.
Remember when Christiane was surveying the scene? Well, you'll notice as she's doing so that she shares a brief yet telling glance with a guy with a teenage mustache. Now, I didn't think much of it when it occurs, but that glance actually spoke volumes. Guess who's there to hand Christiane a napkin after she's finished throwing up? That's right. It's faint mustache boy. And from now on, he's not faint mustache boy, he's Detlev (Thomas Haustein), the second most important character in the Christiane F. universe.
Oh, and the guy in the toilet stall wasn't dead. Sure, he may look like a living corpse, but he ain't dead.
What kind of person gives a David Bowie fan "Changesonebowie" as a present? I guess it's the thought that counts (the boyfriend of Christiane's mother gives her the album as a gift).
Is there anything more exhilarating than a bunch of unruly teens running through an empty shopping mall to the sound David Bowie's "Heroes"? Epic. Iconic. Badass. On a personal note, the moment I first heard "Heroes" back in the day was when I first realized that David Bowie was cool. You see, when I was introduced to David Bowie, it was via "Let's Dance" and "Modern Love." Don't get me wrong, they're good songs, but they don't quite reach the coolness level of "Heroes." And the way the song used in Christiane F. only managed to solidify its coolness.
Worshiping him as if he really were a hero, Christiane looks up to Detlev; she even gives herself the same exact hand tattoo as him. Only problem is, Detlev doesn't seem to feel the same way about her. Spotting him with another girl at Sound, as David Bowie's "Station to Station" (the "it's too late" part is doing its Bowie thing on the soundtrack), Christiane soon realizes that everyone, and I mean, everyone, in the joint is strung out on heroin. She comes to this conclusion when she looks into the eyes of Axel (Jens Kuphal), one of Detlev's drug buddies.
This realization becomes even more apparent at the David Bowie concert. As bikers brawl and "Boys Keep Swinging" plays over the venue's P.A. system, Christiane asks Axel, "Apart from me, am I the only one who doesn't shoot up"? Or maybe he asks him that after the concert. Before or after, it doesn't matter, you don't have be a genius to figure out that Christiane feels left out. The decision to start a trendy heroin habit is the hardest decision a teenager has to make. Think about it, once you start, there's no turning back.
The seconds leading up to Christiane's decision to try heroin are some of the film's most intense. You want her to go home; you might even find yourself yelling "go home" at the screen. But there's nothing you can do to stop a teen who desperately wants to fit in. Hell, even Axel tells her, multiple times, that it's not a good idea. To emphasize the whole "there's no turning back" motif, we're shown a long, dark tunnel after Christiane takes her first hit (instead of shooting up, she snorts it).
Even though Detlev objects to the fact that Christiane is copying him (the hand tattoo, the trendy heroin habit, etc.), he accepts her into the fold. In other words, Christiane's plan worked perfectly. The downside being, trendy heroin habits cost money. If you're wondering how Detlev manages to afford a trendy heroin habit. He explains to Christiane that he gives men, or "punters," as they're known, handjobs in exchange for cash. And most of these handjobs are performed in and around the Bahnhof Berlin Zoologischer Garten, a.k.a. the "Zoo."
You know it's only a matter of time before Christiane is shooting up (snorting is for amateurs) and giving handjobs like the rest of her friends. And you know what that means? Cue the downward spiral. If you thought spending all your birthday money on heroin was the definition of rock bottom, you're in for a nasty surprise. When she's not injecting heroin directly into her bloodstream, Christiane spends most of her time looking for her next fix. That's right, heroin addiction is a full-time job. Firmly ensconced within her family of underage drug addicts, including Babsi (Christiane Reichelt), Stella (Kristin Richter), and Bernd (Jan Georg Effler), Christiane seems to be on the road to ruin.
Despite being hard to watch, there is a glimmer of hope for Christiane and Detlev when they both decide to withdraw together; a harrowing sequence replete emaciated bodies twitching, wallpaper ripping, cramping in the foetal position, and projectile vomit. However, it's obvious that their flirtation with sobriety will be fleeting at best.
To give everyone a sense of the magnitude of the problem, we follow Christiane as she walks through the subway (David Bowie's "Sense Of Doubt" is playing on the soundtrack), where we get a firsthand look at the sheer size of the city's heroin epidemic. Walking in a perpetual haze, the wide-eyed Natja Brunkhorst we met in the film's opening scenes has long since been replaced by a dark-eyed shell of her former self. Unrelenting in its portrayal of the so-called "lost generation," Christiane F. is beautifully bleak. Yeah, I like that, "beautifully bleak." Not to toot my own horn too loudly, but I think that sums up the appeal of the film perfectly. It's not often that you come across a film that manages to suck you into its frightfully specific universe, but Chrsitiane F. is definitely one of those rare instances where art and tragedy collide to make cinematic gold together.

trailer uploaded by antbarton


  1. I think I recommended this to you a couple of years ago. I'm glad u finally saw it.

    I remember stating my 3 favorite uses of a song in a movie, and I mentioned Heroes from this.

    My takeaway: heroin is bad you for you but also awesome.

    There's an Italian exploitation ripoff of this movie called Hanna D. I think. I have a copy of it I'm pretty sure but I haven't watched it yet. Then there's an exploitation precursor to Christiane F called "train Station Pickups", which is also like those Schoolgirl Report movies.

  2. Does the show start with 's' and end with 'r'? :)

    Jeopardy audition was...interesting. I don't think I'll get a call, but if I do, I'll let you know.

    I really, really want to see Christiane F. I'm actually surprised that I have not seen it yet. Just checked on Netflix. Not there. :/

  3. Oh, I forgot to add:

    Rob Ford, WTF?
    And did you feel the earthquake?

  4. @Thomas Duke: Damn, I think you did. I tell you what, I'll give you a shout out in my next entry, which wouldn't exist if it wasn't for Christiane F.

    Hanna D, eh? I think I'm familiar with that film. ;)

    @K-A: That's the one. :D

    Yikes, when I saw the word "Jeopardy!" I thought I had missed your appearance. (I haven't seen the show this week.) Anyway, yeah, keep me posted.

    Surprised?!? I'm shocked that you haven't seen Christiane F.; not because of the subject matter, but because of the whole Cold War/West Berlin thing.

  5. Two words: Crack pipe. Or is that one word? Crackpipe. Nope, it's two.

    I didn't feel anything. :(

  6. I don't think I can watch this one. I lost a high school friend to heroin addiction a little over a decade ago. Sorry to be an awful wet blanket (like always, unfortunately). This looks like a half-way realistic depiction of addiction (and all that fucking nodding off it makes users do) rather than the usual crap. I'll watch this eventual, but not right now.

  7. Dang, I'm sorry to hear that. Since the blanket is already wet, I might as well tell you that my next entry is heroin-related as well. On the bright side, the film was edited by Bruno Mattei.

  8. I'm guessing "Hanna D." is next then. The thing is Bruno Mattei ain't Ruggero Deodato. The brutality and cruelty depicted in his films is as harsh and grim. The pain we see inflicted in Deodato's films is often firmly grounded in social and political problems. But ol' Bruno? I think we can reference your excellent reviews to get a sense of the projects he's involved in: goofy.

    Somehow Bruno Mattei editing this film will make teen-age heroin addiction goofy.

  9. Great review, cheers. You've reminded me I need to get around to watching this. Especially looking forward to the Berlin-era Bowie soundtrack.