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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 4 East is East? Performative Constructions of East German Lives


Dani Levy’s film Alles auf Zucker contains a scene which highlights the perceived distinctions between East and West Germans that character- ized public debates throughout the 1990s. When Jaecki Zucker awaits the arrival of his brother, Samuel, at Berlin airport, he chats with a female bartender who serves him drinks. ‘Sie sind aus dem Osten?’ [Are you from the East?] she asks, to which Jaecki replies: ‘Sieht man das nicht?’ [Can’t you see that?] Looking again at the dishevelled Jaecki, who in an earlier scene was beaten up by a duped gambler and is still marked by the wounds from that fight, she responds dryly: ‘Ne, Sie sehn eigentlich gar nicht so schlecht aus.’ [No, you don’t actually look too bad.] The joke is double-edged and rather contentious: not only does the exchange suggest that East and West Germans can be distinguished by their looks – and that East Germans look worse (poorer, less fashionable and less confident) than their West German counterparts, but within the context of the film’s Jewish topic it also reminds the audience of the old stereotype of the Jewish ‘look’ that makes it impossible for Jews to hide and assimilate. But as we have seen, Jaecki has successfully hidden and suppressed his Jewish heritage and identity in favour of an East German identification, but is once more positioned in a marginalized role in the new united Germany. While his prosperous Western brother displays his Jewishness with pride and confidence, Jaecki clings to the role...

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