German Film Club
Cooperation between Kedai Kebun Forum (KKF) and Goethe Institut Jakarta
Wednesday, 5 December 2018, 7pm
Auditorium, Kedai Kebun Forum (KKF)
Jl. Tirtodipuran 3, Yogyakarta
Open for public and free
4 Kings (4 Könige)
Director: Theresa von Eltz, 2014/15, feature, 99 min., German with English subtitles
Cast:Jella Haase, Paula Beer, Jannis Niewöhner, Moritz Leu, Clemens Schick, Anneke Kim Sarnau
It’s Christmas, the time of peace and family gatherings. Not so for four teenage girls and boys, Lara, Alexandra, Timo and Fedja, nor for Dr. Wolff, whose charges they are in an adolescent psychiatric treatment centre. It transpires during the therapy sessions, painful for everyone concerned, that the conflicts which the youngsters face are rooted in their respective family histories. The Christmas celebrations at the centre contain happy and unhappy surprises – yet, in spite of a bitter failure, there is hope.
Healing and self-acceptance begins with forging mindfulness of others. Dr. Wolff asks his four charges, with whom he is to spend Christmas at the psychiatric centre, to interview fellow inmates, whether patients or staff, about their lives and the impending Christmas holiday. The questions already point to the problems which the youngsters face. Christmas, symbolising peace and happiness within the family, must have been traumatic in most of their lives. Young Lara, deliberately provocative, puts it straight in your face right at the start: “Am I hot?” No, she does not regret not spending time with her family at Christmas, she adds. She never did like the petty bourgeois and sentimental nature of it anyway.
Not spending Christmas with the family but in a psychiatric ward is a shared experience for Lara and Alexandra, the latter suffering under her mother’s stern regime and her dad’s helplessness. For Timo it’s a relief, at least Dr. Wolff got him released into the open ward from being sectioned. Fedja, who is originally from Georgia and suffers from panic attacks, often goes silent, overwhelmed by anxiety and dreading Timo, who is prone to violent fits. It is a challenge for the young doctor Wolf, who looks after the quartet. Not only must he maintain peace, he’s also determined to show his charges a way back into a life that feels less threatening. Group counselling is his preferred method.
“Christmas on an adolescent psychiatric ward, something about it really grabbed my mind. The event and the location could not be any further apart. After all, Christmas Eve is supposed to mean peace and happiness. It’s a family day, full of hope, with the lights and with presents. The ward epitomises crisis, somewhere you go when everything disintegrates, when the family becomes dysfunctional, and the world goes mad. Yet I soon saw what kind of Christmas it could be here, where your protective barriers fall and your insides are turned out. It could be a Christmas free from art if ice and false expectations. A moment of true hope and real beauty.“ (Theresa von Eltz)
Of course Christmas is bound to unleash emotional conflict. This demonstration succeeds convincingly, thanks not only to the skilful direction, but also to the cast’s excellent and sensitive acting. Timo struggles with Fedja’s failed suicide attempt. The four teenagers drown their sorrows in some Schnapps stolen from them at ron’s room. A nightly walk culminates in catastrophe when the not-so-sober Lara falls off a boat into the water and disappears. Timo dives in to save her, apparently in vain. Until Lara re-appears on land, saying she just wanted to fob the others. Timo is still livid with rage and he escalates when Dr. Wolff is taken into account by a nurse later. He lurches into the denouncer, violence being his most proven means of communication. As he also threatens Wolf’s boss he gets sectioned again. Fedja defends Timo, of whom he used to be so terrified. Mutual solidarity has proved a salubrious experience, but what can be done for Timo is limited. Dr. Wolff is among the losers, perhaps only ostensibly, for he has at least learnt he maybe able to bring back a patient whom conventional wisdom had given up – if only he was left to accomplish the job. Even Timo must not be a hopeless case – if the system of juvenile psychiatry gave him another chance. After his desperate and well-meaning violent attack, Timo is forcibly restrained on a bed. It is Wolf, who frees him.