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GHOSTS (GESPENSTER) (director/writer: Christian Petzold; writer: Harun Farocki; cinematographer: Hans Fromm; editor: Bettina Bohler; music: Stefan Will/Marco Dreckkotter; cast: Julia Hummer (Nina), Sabine Timoteo (Toni), Marianne Basler (Francoise Hulet), Aurélien Recoing (Pierre Hulet), Benno Fürmann (Oliver), Philipp Hauß (Mathias), Anna Schudt (Kai); Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Florian Koerner Von Gastorf/Michael Weber; Cinema Guild; 2005-Germany/France-in German with some French and English subtitles)
“A haunting Grimm fairy tale-like intimate drama set in modern Berlin.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Gespenster is the middle film of talented German writer-director Christian Petzold’s (“Jerichow”/”Wolfsburg”) ghost story trilogy, with the The State I am In (2000) and Yella (2007) as bookends. It’s a haunting Grimm fairy tale-like intimate drama set in modern Berlin that leaves a bleak ambiguous ending for its chance-and-coincidence nihilistic story.It connects two seemingly unrelated stories together to make a point about unrest in the present-day climate of an upscale Berlin.

The wealthy French couple–musician Pierre Hulet (Aurélien Recoing) and his attractive but brooding and mentally troubled wife Francoise (Marianne Basler) are visiting Germany. When we first meet her, she is being released from a psychiatric hospital in Spandau. Francoise’s still guilt-ridden that her 3-year-old daughter Marie was kidnapped in 1989 in Berlin, almost 17 years ago. Every year since, Francoise takes a trip to Berlin from her home in Paris to see if she can find her missing girl. Upon release from the clinic she stays with hubby in a posh Berlin Marriott hotel, while he takes care of his personal business.

The vulnerable, bored and unhappy 17-year-old loner foster child Nina (Julia Hummer), who works picking up trash for the Parks Department youth program and lives in a hostel run by social workers, meets the reckless street girl thug Toni (Sabine Timoteo) in the park after witnessing two men smacking the teen around. The needy Nina foolishly comes under Toni’s spell and leaves the foster home to join the anti-social raging thuggish girl in a few adventures that include a shoplifting spree in a department store and a party in the swank house of the arty married film producer, Oliver (Benno Fürmann), who lures them there after they ridiculously audition for a part in his film.

In the street, outside the department store of the shoplifting spree, the harangued Francoise meets Nina rushing out of the store and is convinced because of a scar on her ankle that Marie is her long-lost daughter.

At Oliver’s party, the out-of-place girls react differently to the situation: Nina wants to bolt, while Toni wants to take whatever she can from the phony full-bellied pretentious movie man. Toni survives by stealing and her ruthless disregard for others, taking what she wants and not being bashful about using others. After sleeping with Nina she deserts her to fuck Oliver, while Oliver’s irate wife gives the dejected Nina the boot from the house and forces her to wander the streets alone where she again meets her maybe mom.

We enter the climax wondering if this will be a fairy-tale story with a happy ending or a sad ending to a modern-day urban tale of alienation, loneliness and cynicism. Things get answered in Petzold’s own puzzling way, as mom was always wrong in picking out a daughter but this time got it right but the French couple nevertheless return home empty-handed. For Petzold, the answer if mom and daughter connect is not as important as observing that the lives of both the disenfranchised girl and the privileged mom suffer from emotional shock and the inability to piece their broken lives back together: the kid is too apathetic to care about her well-being and the distraught mom is damaged goods who no longer believes in her quest.

It won the Best Film of the German Film Critics Award.

REVIEWED ON 11/12/2009 GRADE: A-

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”