The Lights are Going Out

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Dominik Graf is this really interesting director of, largely, German crime shows. He and his favourite writers have really advanced the form. But his feature films tend not to do well.

My theory about why is that Graf is too in love with the fashionable tools of the moment — his TV shows all date fast, due to the visual tricks deployed, though this dating doesn’t really hurt them as entertainment. His up-to-the-minute stylistic flourishes, which show up in the colour correction, the fonts, the transitions, seem to militate against whatever “cinematic” means. I liked his 2014 BELOVED SISTERS but the pastel lettering splattered all over it was an abomination, and it was hard to understand how such an intelligent and nifty filmmaker could commit such an abomination.

So naturally he loves drones and they’re all over his latest TV work, Die Lüge, die wir Zukunft nennen, an episode of Polizeiruf 110. Hey, I love drones too, but something tells me the gratuitous use of them is going to age fast, and they’re CERTAINLY gratuitous here. Though one is grateful for spacious photography at this historical moment, even if it is of Munich.

Plot: a unit of cops is ordered to run surveillance on a company suspected of insider trading. The cops realize that the information they’re getting allows them a chance to get in on the action, and they start insider trading too. Then Internal Affairs start investigating the investigators and the team breaks up in acrimony, leading to OTT mayhem. It’s all delivered at the rattling pace Graf has increasingly perpetrated, barreling through confusion into sheer hysteria. Very satisfying and at times horrifying to watch.

There’s one masterstroke that owes nothing to fashion. A character is dying. There’s a lot going on: they ask him whether he wants to be buried or cremated and, delirious, he says “Surprise me.”

Graf cuts rapidly between every major room we’ve seen him in in the show, but they’re now empty. And the lights blink out, and the omnipresent computer screens go blank.

Poetry.

Beautiful, bleak.

The screenplay is by Günter Schütter.

Thanks to Hannu Nuotio.

6 Responses to “The Lights are Going Out”

  1. Andre Ferreira Says:

    The crime genre seems to both one of the best if you want to actually experiment with form in a mainstream medium (look at film noir), but also the one most prone to charges of flashiness later on (lots of TV shows can bear this out). Must be quite the balancing act to actually blend experimentation in a tasteful way without it becoming an instant period piece. That said, even with time it can be entertaining (the 80-ness of something like Scarface or Miami Vice is part of its appeal, although it would be interesting to understand why superficially similar techniques in Manhunter and To Live and Die in LA have dated somewhat better).

    Anyway, thanks for the reminder about Graf-you’ve talked him up before and I forgot completely. Good post as always!

  2. I interviewed Graf once and he was very nice but my recorder didn’t work!

    He’s amassed a huge body of work by going where the employment is and making it his own. The Edinburgh retrospective just scraped the surface and he’s actually come into his own since then. but his 80s stuff is great too, and in a way it’s nice that he takes a snapshot of each momentary trend in storytelling and design.

  3. Andre Ferreira Says:

    Now you have me imagining a Boyhood style saga of crime through the 20th Century told through the various film fashions, haha. Any particular films you recommend as a starting point?

  4. I would guess Griffith’s Musketeers of Pig Alley and Walsh’s The Regeneration would be a solid foundation…

  5. Andre Ferreira Says:

    Whoops, I meant with Graf but that works too

  6. He did some great episodes of Der Fahnder, including one that channels The Narrow Margin via Die Hard and throws in more twists than a universe of pretzels (I think it’s called Nightwatch) and his best feature film might be the sweaty heist drama Die Katze (1988).

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