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Performing the Modern German

Performance and Identity in Contemporary German Cinema


Matthias Uecker

Since the late 1990s, German cinema has gone through a period of astonishing productivity and success that has made it the focus of scholarly analysis once more. What can contemporary German cinema tell us about current German society and its problems? What are the distinguishing features of filmmaking in Germany today?
This book analyses the representation of individual and collective behaviour in post-unification German cinema. It looks at performances of gender, ethnicity and nationality in a wide range of contemporary German films. Using Performance Theory as a framework, the book discusses how modern German identities are presented as conformist, liberating or subversive responses to external challenges.
Theoretical considerations regarding the efficacy of performance and the dialectical relationship between transgression, resistance and normalization form the background for an analysis that investigates contemporary German films in terms of their function within the restructuring of post-unification German society.


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Chapter 1 The Power of Performance


1. Some examples … At the start of Andreas Dresen’s comedy, Sommer vorm Balkon (Summer on the Balcony, 2005), Katrin, a forty-year-old woman enters an of fice, extends her hand to greet a man and whispers her name to introduce herself. She is of fered a chair and cof fee, and some small talk takes place before it transpires that this is a job interview. Right from the start, Katrin appears nervous and insecure, and she f lounders eventually when she is asked to explain how she would work within a team. While the audience of Dresen’s film will at this point have no clear idea of the purpose of the scene or the significance of either of the two participants, the situation itself seems to require as little explanation as Katrin’s behaviour. Focusing the camera tightly on her face and upper body, the film invites the audience to observe and analyse her performance as a job applicant. But before such an analysis can be concluded, Dresen alters the frame in which this little scene has taken place: suddenly, the camera moves back and pans across the room, revealing an attentive audience and a man with a video camera who interrupts the interview and invites com- ments from the audience. As it turns out, we have not been watching a job interview at all but rather a rehearsal, part of a training course for the unemployed designed to give them the ‘presentational skills’ they need to get work again. The situation...

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