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Max Linz is a filmmaker interested in boundaries of systems. He is not at home in the system in which he works, perhaps in which he must work, if he wants to operate at all.This is the system of film, more precisely German films, and even more precisely German films that are supported and funded. His métier is thus films about systems: they are films engaged in structural critique, and with this censure they find great favour within certain areas of the system (festivals, criticism). It is precisely this relationship between critique and acclaim that Linz depicts in his first films with sarcastic precision. His web series DAS OBERHAUSENER GEFÜHL (2012) was commissioned for the anniversary of the Oberhausen Manifesto, in which Linz reflects sarcastically on film funding in Germany.

In his feature-length debut ICH WILL MICH NICHT KÜNSTLICH AUFREGEN (2014), the focus is not on film but rather on art and its management, centred not least of all on the question of economy. Enter Asta Andersen (Sarah Ralfs), a curator planning an exhibition about film, art, and politics. Linz’s second film, WEITERMACHEN SANSSOUCI (2019), proceeds to the present-day system of the German university, one characterized by a hunt for funds to enable projects and temporary positions, by a breathless atmosphere of continual evaluations. His most recent film, L'ÉTAT ET MOI, is about law, the legal system, and its process-based mode of functioning that subsumes reality under laws. Max Linz, however, does what he always does: he shows how something impedes the apparatus in question, in this case its own political and historical preconditions. It can function smoothly only by concealing them, yet they’re exposed in L'ÉTAT ET MOI through structural bewilderment: Enter Hans List (Sophie Rois), 19th-century composer/communist, fighter for the Paris Commune, doppelgänger of the law—or, more precisely, of judge Josephine Praetorius-Camusot (Rois again)—sprung from the past.

Linz' films are characterized by theory and reflection: books are read in an ostentatious manner, texts quoted, references made. The staging is deliberately artificial and the registers varied; scenes are dominated by exactingly composed tableaus, and realism in the conventional sense is not an option.

Max Linz is a political, leftist filmmaker, who pursued cinema studies in Berlin followed by filmmaking at Berlin’s German Film and Television Academy (DFFB). He started out as a writer of theoretical, critical, and political film texts. He has remained a writing director, whose cinematic work is flanked by theoretical, combative, activist, and reflective texts—evident, for example, in the way he readily and very critically reflected on the conditions under which the web series DAS OBERHAUSENER GEFÜHL came to be in his text „Liebe Deutschland“. His films are characterized by theory and reflection: books are read in an ostentatious manner, texts quoted, references made. The staging is deliberately artificial and the registers varied; scenes are dominated by exactingly composed tableaus, and realism in the conventional sense is not an option. There are references to the archives of German film history (tradition would be too affirmative a term): less to the so-called Berlin School (Angela Schanelec, Christian Petzold, Thomas Arslan, and the like) than to more explicitly political and avowedly realism-averse directors such as Alexander Kluge, Harun Farocki, Heinz Emigholz, or even Christoph Schlingensief—and, even more fundamentally, to the father of all alienation effects, Bertolt Brecht.

Comedy as motor

Max Linz’s films are comedies—perhaps somewhat surprisingly, considering the above. Though comedies of theory, of course, discursive skits of buffoonery. Comedy here is both a motor and a consequence of continual confusion and befuddlement. There is slapstick, personified in L'ÉTAT ET MOI in the constant stumbling of the side character Yushi Lewis (Jeremy Mockridge). Words, too, get in each other’s way: the deliberately clumsy punchline grounded in a misunderstanding of “composer” (“Komponist”) as “communist” is done to death in L'ÉTAT ET MOI—exaggerated to the point of self-reflexive meta-comedy. The doppelgänger, a motif from the comedy archives, is treated in the same way, namely without regard to plausibility.

Elements which remains close to a potential reality are often already absurd. The comedic path ad absurdum is one of escalation. While an academic lecture in WEITERMACHEN SANSSOUCI on the subject of “nudging” starts out within the framework of the conceivable, the reaction of the audience goes beyond parody. They break out into song, into a version of the mushy Christian hit “Danke (“Thank you for this lecture”), alluding at the same time to a motif from Christoph Marthaler’s legendary theatre piece “Murx den Europäer!“. Music is an important device in Linz’s cinema in other ways. In L'ÉTAT ET MOI this is evident on the plot level, with the staging of an opera (in Berlin’s Staatsoper house) playing a not insignificant role. At the same time, however, the sudden shift from scenic prose to music always constitutes an alienation effect that lends another form of visibility to the ossified circumstances.

Political and postdramatic

Max Linz has a great affinity with theatre, though not with a theatre of empathetic representation, but above all with Berlin’s Volksbühne under the artistic directorship of Frank Castorf, where Marthaler’s play ran for more than a decade. What interests Linz in the directors and styles of this theory and practice of theatre is the political at least as much as the postdramatic. In Linz’s first films the influence of Volksbühne director (and, as of last year, the artistic director) René Pollesch, with his theoretical and discursive comedies, was distinctly palpable; in L'ÉTAT ET MOI, it takes a step back. These influences remain prominently displayed in the cast: Sophie Rois is perhaps the biggest star the Volksbühne has produced; Bernhard Schütz was part of the ensemble; Frank Büttner made appearances with Castorf and Kerstin Grassmann in films and productions by Christoph Schlingensief, both however as non-professional actors.

The mix of styles, the trained actors alongside amateurs, the controlled and awkward bodies, the broad spectrum of movement and speech: all this plays an important role in the film, with the oftentimes rigid mise-en-scène creating a space that is artificial but also programmatically open precisely because of this. It is moreover something, but not the only thing, that connects the films of Max Linz with those of Julian Radlmaier. Both born in 1984, both initially film scholars and DFFB graduates; Raadlmaier, too, set the styles of performance and speech in wild juxtaposition in his first feature (with the tellingly ironic title) SELBSTKRITIK EINES BÜRGERLICHEN HUNDES (2017) and then again more forcefully in BLUTSAUGER (2021), which screened in the Encounters section of the Berlinale. In the latter stage and film star Lilith Stangenberg meets the decidedly non-actor and director Alexandre Koberidze, also a DFFB graduate, whose RAS VKHEDAVT, RODESAC CAS VUKUREBT? (2021) screened to much acclaim in competition at the Berlinale.

Koberidze also breaks with the precepts of conventional realism in his work but places the narrative itself at the centre, more fairy tale-like, with distinctly less brusque artificiality. Susanne Heinrich is much more likely to be counted among the new Berlin Brechtians from the DFFB, born in 1985, though she came to filmmaking from literature, after publishing several volumes of stories and novels. Her feature film debut, DAS MELANCHOLISCHE MÄDCHEN (2019), is a feminist comedy that combines theory and feature film plot in an artificial style. Heinrich has also been more publicly engaged than Linz and Radlmaier in the struggles over the direction of the DFFB, debates which have centred on the question of resistance against the real existing business of film, television, and series. All three are in search of a cinematic aesthetic that combines leftist theory with an emancipatory practice of film politics, not least in the training of filmmakers, as well as with (more) collective forms of filmmaking.

Ekkehard Knörer, born in 1971. Critic, co-editor of “Cargo. Film/Medien/Kultur” and “Merkur”, writer for “taz”.

Translation: Hilda Hoy

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