Hamburg Lessons

Finally I found an english online review which relates to the recently much reviewed film ‘Hamburger Lektionen’ (Hamburg lessons) by Romuald Karmakar. This film makes a certain way of thinking visible:

…. by opting for extreme asceticism. The only thing you see in the actor Manfred Zapatka. Wearing a black suit and dark shirt, he reads the answers that the Imam in Hamburg’s Al-Quds mosque (more) gave in 2000 in two “lessons” to questions that arose among the believers gathered in the prayer room. The only trace elements of any “acting” come when Zapatza reaches for some notes which are handed to him by a shadow or are placed on a stool next to him. Mohammed Fazazi’s lessons were recorded anonymously on video and distributed as propaganda material.
images film website

The film’s script is nothing more than the German translation. Zapatka reads the text in a neutral and distanced voice, he presents it, makes it known. The prospect of having to sit through 133 minutes of an Imam’s theological hair-splitting and the thickness of the manuscript in Zapakta’s hands is enough to make any viewer balk. Get out of the cinema quick, says the voice in your head. But the effect of this minimal set-up soon starts to work. Not the extreme images in the daily flood of news, but the words of a man speaking deliberately to a virtually stationary camera open up the cosmos of the Islamist mind, revealing the mentality of its propagandists and making tangible the atmosphere of the parallel world of the mosques and prayer houses.

Sorrily this is the first time that I came across Karmakar’s films and according to the essay on sensesofcinema.com he here just pushes the outlines of his concept further to the limits. As he is described with his earlier work to be ..

… abstracting conventions of verité through framing, montage and sound editing, avoiding all commentary, and using techniques such as repetition and overstretching (the camera ‘hanging on’ after the supposed ‘point’ of a shot), these films push the aspect of artistic creation very clearly to the foreground. This is also the case in the later documentary and fictional works: one is always aware of the ‘created’, but paradoxically this awareness strengthens the pull and maelstrom effect of the events and stories that are presented.

Thus this last project seems to relate quite consequently to another fascinating project from 2002 by the same film maker – the ‘Himmler Project’: In “The Himmler Project” Zapatka read out the Posner speech of the SS chief and peeled the SS costume packaging off of his biological racist extermination thinking. Both these projects seem to have as a characteristic that he stripped down his earlier concepts, which still contained: real life dialogues, overheard, accumulated and broken up again into movie dialogue to now relay almost purely on precise portrayal of how Germans (and in Germany living people) put emotions in linguistic motion.

The documentary method of showing figures without comment and focusing on conflicts by interrelating images had an enormous political effect, for previously, Neonazi speech had only been audible in the German media in conjunction with distancing strategies.
Romuald Karmakar’s The Himmler Project (Das Himmler Projekt, 2000) also triggered great controversy. Karmakar had the German actor Manfred Zapatka recite a speech originally delivered by Heinrich Himmler in 1943. The audience is thus compelled to listen to this monologue, aware that its past listeners were indeed well-informed about the atrocities of the Holocaust. (link)

.. and became a study on Germany:

Expanding these strategies, the issue for Karmakar with the reworking of documents is not just an examination of the past as a then-present but rather what they indirectly tell us about the period’s aftermath. “The Himmler Projekt”, he says, is “actually a film about the post-war Bonn republic” – the SS Generals who had all listened to the Himmler speech kept it silently alive through their successful, unchallenged biographies, well into the 1970s and ’80s. (link)

german link

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