German Film Club
Cooperation between Kedai Kebun Forum (KKF) and Goethe Institut Jakarta
Wednesday, 4 December 2019, 7pm
Auditorium, Kedai Kebun Forum (KKF)
Jl. Tirtodipuran 3, Yogyakarta
Open for public and free
Me and Kaminski
(Ich und Kaminski)
Director: Wolfgang Becker, 2015, feature film, 120 minutes, Germany with English subtitles
Cast: Daniel Brühl, Jesper Christensen, Amira Casar, Denis Lavant, Jördis Triebel, Geraldine Chaplin
Germany in the 90s: Art critic Sebastian Zöllner is on the hunt for glory. He wants to write a tell-all book about Manuel Kaminski, a once prominent, now almost forgotten painter, pupil of Matisse and friend of Picasso, who’s retreated to a chalet in Graubünden and has long been blind. Zöllner tracks him down, unscrupulously invades his life, steals some of his late paintings, and entices him to travel to Belgium, where Kaminski’s childhood sweetheart Theresa, who’s long been assumed dead, is thought to live. On the way, Zöllner begins to understand that it is the old man who might have the advantage over him.
In methodological terms, the film recalls Woody Allen’s ZELIG, with its stage-managed images smuggled into documentary archive material. Supposedly, the art world mourned painter Manuel Kaminski, the last representative of classical modernism, a pupil of Matisse and friend of Picasso. Claes Oldenburg, Andy Warhol, Woody Allen and Jack Lemmon were alleged witnesses to Kaminski’s life and work, which even influenced Hitchcock and The Beatles.
Sebastian Zöllner finally wants to get his career as an art critic on track. He plans a tell-all book about Kaminski and knows that the painter, a legend of classical modernism who is probably only well-known thanks to a misunderstanding, has retreated to a Swiss chalet. Zöllner’s aggressively arrogant nature is already evident from his train journey to Switzerland. He finds the painter’s house in the mountains, enters it presumptuously and brashly, shows off in front of Kaminski’s daughter, Miriam, mingles rudely and uninvited among the guests at a house concert, and invites himself to dinner – until he is firmly shown the door.
Back in his guesthouse, he discovers from a phone call that his girlfriend Elke has thrown him out of their apartment. A pair of composers inform him that Kaminski once had a great love, Therese, who, as his muse, “saved his work, in terms of its content”. He never got over the split, so, to alleviate his sorrow, someone lied to him, telling him his beloved died. Zöllner finds out that the woman now lives in Belgium. Once again, the journalist breaks into the painter’s house and finds unsigned, bleak self-portraits of Kaminski. He steals two of them, and convinces the painter to travel with him to Belgium to visit Therese. A peculiar road movie then begins, the two men constantly monitoring one another furtively and lying.
ME AND KAMINSKI, like the novel of the same name, is a risky undertaking, because it offers no positive hero. Both Zöllner and Kaminski are, thanks to their vanity and constant lying, hard to bear. Nevertheless, the director and two actors succeed in the impossible: The viewer is interested in their journey, and, by the end, despite all obstacles, develops a certain sympathy for them. The film should definitely not be interpreted as a mere satire of the art business. “ME AND KAMINSKI is a film about blindness in multiple senses, about ambition and art, about lies, truth and media, and about the eternal duel between age and youth” (Daniel Kehlmann). The key may be the story Kaminski tells about Bodhidharma: A student followed the wise monk, tracking him for years until he asked him, “Master! I have nothing!” His answer?” Throw it away!” This perfectly suits the finale. Even if Zöllner asks, “If I have nothing, what shall I throw away?”, at the end he will at least have an intuition.