When I was looking at the film review section I was truly surprised to see that this important film from the early 80s had not yet been reviewed by anyone on this site. Christiane F released in 1981 I suppose now has achieved cult status but certainly on its release it wasnt unnoticed and produced some shocked reactions from critics and audiences alike. It is viewed by many as a forerunner of more recent teenage expose movies such as Larry Clarks Kids (1995) or even the more stylised Trainspotting (1996) but I would say in terms of exposing youth subculture it is better than these.
The film is based on the real life experiences of a young girl in the film know simply as Christiane F. She is a normal 14-year-old living with her mother and younger sister in a middle class apartment building in Berlin in the 70s. She is intrigued by the sound of the new disco near where she lives and although too young to enter legally she persuades an older friend to take her along one night. There she meets a young boy Detlef and through him shes introduced to using drugs something he and his friends are all very familiar with. Its not long before she gets deeper and deeper into a desperate world of addiction abuse and prostitution as her habit gets out of control.
Made in the early 80s and heavily featuring the music of David Bowie Christiane F is a deeply emotional and gritty portrayal of drug abuse and addiction. Directed in part in a semi documentary style by German director Uli Edel who later went on to have more mainstream success with Last Exit To Brooklyn (1989) it is a powerful testament to a facet of youth culture that we all know exists but would rather pretend does not.
Edel brings out some powerful performances from a young group of unknown actors especially the lead Natja Brunckorst as the tragic Christianeof the title and Thomas Hausten as her druggie boyfriend. It is the naturalness, almost naivety of their performances, which manages to convey the ever present dangers for innocents in our modern society.
Despite the graphic scenes of drug use and the background of sex abuse the movie can be seen as a love story between two kids out of their depth and out of control. Their love is doomed from the very start but their feeling for each other are visible through the oppressive need to feed their habit and I their relationship is quite touching. I believe that this connection the two main characters make with the audience, the sympathy that they elicit, is why the film works in terms of narrative rather than simply being an anti-drug cautionary tale.
Be warned this doesnt make pleasant viewing as it includes many scenes of addicts using needles, drug withdrawal and sex scenes. To describe the film as visceral would be an understatement as the characters are brutally treated and exploited. The young Christiane descends into a personal hell of addiction and exploitation as she alternates from getting a fix to selling herself for the next one. The performance is all the more stunning considering that the Actress was only 15 when the film was made and one wonders what effect it had on her although she did go on to have a successful career in acting mostly on TV in Germany. The promising talent of Thomas Hausen never matured however as this is the only film he ever made.
The film is not only shocking for its visual content but also from its premise that a teenager doesnt have to be from a abusive family living on a dreadful council estate to become a drug user, even nice girl and boys come across drugs and the dividing line between experimentation and dependence whether social, psychological or physical is a thin one.
One further aspect of the film that makes it stand out is the use Bowies music for the soundtrack (and the inclusion of a live performance) Bowie himself had exorcised his own drug demons a few years earlier after a spell of heavy cocaine use in the late 70s, which did include famously a period in Berlin with Iggy Pop and Lou Reed. We can assume that Bowie who was closely involved in the project knew first hand about the Berlin drug scene and some of the music used in the film is from the Station to Station album that had been heavily influenced by his cocaine abuse.
Overall the film is a gut wrenching, relentlessly depressing journey that in no way could be said to glamorise the use of drugs or drug culture. What makes it to overwhelmingly dark story some extent bearable is the glimmer of hope that is presented to us at the end although the final experience of seeing the film although sobering and enlightening cannot be said to be a satisfying one.
The DVD transfer is of good quality and the Dolby stereo sound serves the soundtrack well, but there is little in terms of special features which when you consider the themes examined in the film, drug abuse, teenage culture etc is a missed opportunity. We get scene access with interactive menus but little else besides.
It wouldve been fascinating to see what the actors felt about making the film and a directors commentary fro once would have been worth listening to. I also felt that since the story was based on real person it wouldve been appropriate to tell us what really happened to the real life Christiane F. I think she did eventually get herself away from drugs and had a relatively normal life since then. This would give hope to many.
You can also choose to watch in the original German with English subtitles or in Dubbed English I would suggest the original German dialogue version is better.
Technical Details etc.
Directed by Uli Edel. Written by Kai Hermann, Horst Rieck and Herman Weigel.
Natja Brunckhorst ... Christiane
Thomas Haustein ... Detlev
Jens Kuphal ... Axel
Runtime is 120 min and obviously due to its content carries an 18 UK certificate.
Christiane F can be bought on DVD from Amazon for £14.97 (+p & p) at the time this review was written.
Christiane F is a very important film, it was one of the first to tell this kind of story from the point of view of the yougsters involved using their own voice. It had a tremendous effect when released and shocked many people at the time when the dangers of AIDS related to drug abuse and casual sex were also just beginning to become a huge worry for many people. It certainly trail-blazed for many films that followed and it would be a pity it were forgotten or marginalized to a cult audience. Despite the fact that it was made almost 25 years ago the danger it so vividly exposes have not gone away and in many ways have increased, it certainly should be required viewing for parents and older teenagers alike even if it never will be a comfortable experience.
Recommended viewing, but it will stay with you afterwards!
© Mauri 2007