A German Youth


A young journalist, a film direction student of direction, a philosophy student, a beginning lawyer, and a painter who dropped out of art school-what was it that transformed Ulrike Meinhof, Holger Meins, Gudrun Ensslin, Horst Mahler, and Andreas Baader from left-wing activists into terrorists? When [is it time] to stop being tolerant, and start throwing stones? This is the question they asked as they moved from organizing demonstrations, writing manifestos, and making political films to strikes, attacks on parliament, assassinations, kidnappings, and murder. To understand the reasons for their radicalization and its consequences, French director Jean-Gabriel Périot dove into the archives, and the result is his Caesar-nominated A German Youth (2016), a fascinating found footage investigation about the members and supporters of the Red Army, which terrorized West Germany in the 1970s. Périot also tests the subversive potential of cinema and the power of visual communication. We see a desperate battle between the story told by rebellious youth and the official state narrative. There are hostages and victims, but there are no winners.


Jean-Gabriel Périot:

"Resistance" has a special historical significance for the French. The name "La Résistance" is used to describe all those - both men and women - who fought the German occupier and the collaboration government during the Second World War. The word, therefore, signifies taking a risk (by resisting, we risk our lives) as well as actually fighting the enemy.

Currently, only those women and men who literally risk their lives in a struggle against a powerful enemy can still be said to be "resisting". The others, i.e. more or less all of us, the West, are at most "engaging" (what does that word mean to us anyway? It also seems to have been exhausted in light of our current political practices).

Cinema will never have anything to do with any form of "resistance". Films can at most show women and men who have put up a resistance, and continue doing so. However, films as such are nothing, and no director has ever "resisted" anything by shooting one, even if some claim to have done so. I would advise those conceited directors to (re)watch Godard's "Here and Elsewhere". He returns in it to his footage of the Fedayeen in Lebanon from several years before. He recalls that he believed his film would be an act of "resistance". But reality put him back in his place. The camp was bombed soon after they finished shooting, all the Fedayeen died, and all he was left with were debates about film as a form of "resistance" or "engagement".

Reality is much more terrifying than cinema. And it is the only place where any sort of "resistance" can happen.


Małgorzata Sadowska
New Horizons film festival
August 2017