By Riham Alkousaa
A film about East German blue-collar workers casts a light on continuing east-west divisions that saw a far-right party storm into Germany’s parliament last year – even if its director explicitly disavows any political message
With “In the Aisles,” which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival on Friday, German director Thomas Stuber seeks to dramatize the uncertainty that many East German workers still face in a reunited Germany.
“It’s about people who feel left behind, people who say ‘what about me?’,” Stuber said, contending that much of the story of the de-industrialisation that swept former Communist East Germany in the 1990s and 2000s is still untold.
Feeling left out and threatened by migration, eastern Germans voted in large numbers for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party last September. It won around a fifth of votes in the former East compared to around a tenth in the west.
“Yes, I can imagine that three in five people would put their cross on the wrong part of the voting ballot, but I still like the people and that’s what I am talking about,” Stuber said at a news conference after his film was screened.
In the film, Christian, an introvert young man, starts working in a wholesale market, spending his days and nights walking through the market’s endless aisles, arranging beverages and learning how to drive a forklift
His mentor, Bruno, an old man who was once a truck driver in East Germany still misses his job but he considers himself one of the lucky East Germans who were young enough to be re-employed after Germany’s unification.
Gruff and stern, Bruno nonetheless takes the time to educate Christian about the workplace politics and dynamics of the warehouse. Gradually, they become friends.
Everyone in the market learns that Christian loves Marion from the “sweets” aisle but Marion, stuck in an unhappy marriage, cannot offer him more than smalltalk next to the coffee machine where they usually meet.
Franz Rogowski, who plays the leading role in the film, is a European shooting star at the 2018 Berlinale, appearing in two world premieres at the festival competition.
The film also stars two German actors, Sandra Hueller, playing Marion, and Peter Kurth, as Bruno, who had their own experiences of living in East Germany
Kurth said his personal experience in finding his place in a united Germany in 1990 helped him understand and sympathize with his character.
“I was 32 years old when the political change happened. The wall came down. I had to re-orient myself. Although I did not go through the pain myself, I understand it,” Kurth said.
“In the Aisles” is one of 19 films competing for the Berlin International Film Festival‘s Golden Bear, to be awarded on Feb. 24.
(Reporting By Riham Alkousaa; Editing by Richard Balmforth)