The Counter-Cinema of the Berlin School

The Counter-Cinema of the Berlin School

Marco Abel

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The first book-length study in any language of the "Berlin School," the most significant filmmaking movement to come out of Germany since the 1970s.
The contemporary German directors collectively known as the "Berlin School" constitute the most significant filmmaking movement to come out of Germany since the New German Cinema of the 1970s, not least because their films mark the emergence of a new film language. The Berlin School filmmakers, including Christian Petzold, Thomas Arslan, Angela Schanelec, Christoph Hochhäusler, Ulrich Köhler, Benjamin Heisenberg, Maren Ade, and Valeska Grisebach, are reminiscent of the directors of the New German Autorenkino and of French cinéma des auteurs of the 1960s.
This is the first book-length study of the Berlin School in any language. Its central thesis - that the movement should be regarded as a "counter-cinema" - is built around the unusual style of realism employed in its films, a realism that presents images of a Germany that does not yet exist. Abel concludes that it is precisely how these films' images and sounds work that renders them political: they are political not because they are message-driven films but because they are made politically, thus performing a "redistribution of the sensible" - a direct artistic intervention in the way politics partitions ways of doing and making, saying and seeing.

Marco Abel is Professor of English and Film Studies at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

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Table of Contents

Note on Translations
Introduction: So This Was Germany - A Preliminary Account of the Berlin School
Thomas Arslan: Realism beyond Identity
Christian Petzold: Heimat-Building as Utopia
Angela Schanelec: Narrative, Understanding, Language
Revolver Cinema and Électrons libres: Cinema Must Be Dangerous
Christoph Hochhäusler: Intensifying Life
Benjamin Heisenberg: Filming Simply as Resistance
Valeska Grisebach: A Sharpening of Our Regard
Maren Ade: Filming between Sincerity and Irony
Ulrich Köhler: The Politics of Refusal
Conclusion: A Counter-Cinema


"The publication of Abel's book (now also available in paperback) represents a certain milestone, for bringing a cultural, historical, and aesthetic coherence and systematicity to the way these ?lms are now perceived. . . . Abel's interventions [ ] open new conversations within the discipline, while also bringing contemporary German cinema to the attention of scholars of affect whose gaze has otherwise seldom strayed beyond US, French, and British ?lm production . . . ." SEMINAR

Impresses through its theoretical ambition, wide-ranging archival research-including in-depth interviews with many of its key directors-and lucid analyses of films, making a convincing case why these films matter. . . .This newest wave of German cinema has attracted its fair share of critics, but Abel can claim to have written its definitive account. [His book] has the makings of an instant classic. -GSA Prize Committee

They are bound together by no manifesto, have no common training, live in different places, and the directors even reject the label that has been given them. . . . [Yet] their films have aesthetic parallels; they distinguish themselves formally from the German mainstream. Abel . . . engages with them [here] on a high theoretical level: America has discovered the Berlin School. -Hans Helmut Prinzler

A seminal reference work for all scholars working in the field of German Studies. By virtue of his meditations on form, texture, and aesthetics, Abel's work deserves to be seen alongside the work of John Orr in its thoughtful reflections on contemporary cinema's innovative engagement with reality. JOURNAL OF CONTEMPORARY EUROPEAN STUDIES

Abel considers each filmmaker's body of work in its entirety, a remarkable achievement in its own right. [This book] covers all the [Berlin School's] major films, filmmakers, and developments to date. Future scholarship will certainly need to reckon with it. . . . [It] puts the Berlin School on the map of film and media scholarship. FILM QUARTERLY

The big payoff of the book is the care with which Abel devotes himself to the individual filmmakers. He applies no standard scheme, but instead thoroughly analyzes the career and most important films of each . . . . He succeeds in presenting portraits that are very rich. . . . Deep and convincing interpretations and insights arise into a film movement and its way of thinking. FILMBLATT

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