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    Nichts als Gespenster – Five Judith Hermann Tales

    By Ron Holloway | August 25, 2008

    Following the publication of Judith Hermann’s second volume of short stories, Nichts als Gespenster (2003), Martin Gypkens approached the author to film five stories taken from both volumes under the latter book’s title, Nothing But Ghosts (Germany, 2007). After the astonishing critical acclaim accorded Judith Hermann’s first volume of short stories, Sommerhaus, später (1998), it was only a matter of time before her tales about today’s indecisive “lost generation” would be filmed.

    In Dominik Betz’s Die Eisblumen Farm (Window Frost Farm) (Germany, 2004), a short film based on Summer House, Later, a young woman can’t make up her mind between being the girlfriend of a popular writer and beginning an affair with a free-living taxi driver at his summer hut on the Oder River. In Tobias Stille’s short film Freundinnen (Girlfriends) (Germany, 2005), two girlfriends are attracted to the same lothario, who plays one off against the other. From a thematic perspective, Gypkens shares Hermann’s concerns for youths and young people who lead rather hedonistic lives: Wir (We) (Germany, 2003), his debut feature programmed in the Perspektive Deutsches Kino at the 53rd Berlinale, exposed the soft underbelly of youths more interested in partying than what the future will bring.

    Now, in Nothing But Ghosts (Germany, 2007), he has set his sight on young adults in their mid-life crises. And this time, the landscapes – Grand Canyon, Venice, Iceland, Jamaica, Cottbus, filmed in stunning cinemascope (camerawoman Eva Fleig) over a five month period – provide an extra dimension on just how empty the lives and longings of these immature wanderers and heart-aching funsters (nearly always hyped by a ménage à trois confrontation) can be when they stop long enough to look themselves in the eyes.

    Each of the episodes, intercut to offer variety as well as depth, features top names in the current German film scene. The one tell-tale episode that puts everything in focus is Gypkens’s adaptation of Hurricane from Hermann’s first volume. Here, Nora (Jessica Schwarz) and her girlfriend Christine (Brigitte Hobmeier) are guests of an old boyfriend (Janek Rieke) at his Jamaican beach bungalow. The ensuing tugs of war are accented further by news of an approaching hurricane that may strand Christine longer than expected, although in fact she has nowhere to go and can’t make up her mind anyway. “Something just has to happen,” she muses. Although, as underscored forcefully in the other episodes, nothing ever will.

    At the Grand Canyon, a touring couple (August Diehl, Maria Simon) try to explain to a cowboy in a bar, who has never left the state, why they have rented a car to drive aimlessly from coast to coast and back again “just because it’s normal!” In Venice, 30-year-old Marion (Fritzi Haberlandt), recently divorced, celebrates an emotionally jarring birthday with her egotistical parents on their own senseless souvenir-gathering tour through Italy. In Iceland, Jonas (Wotan Wilke Möhring) and his latest girlfriend Irene (Ina Weisse) are licking their wounds after failed affairs, only to be drawn into yet another. And in provincial Cottbus, during a stage rehearsal, two love-starved women, Caro (Karina Plachetka) and Ruth (Chiara Schoras), find themselves compromised by a handsome male in the ensemble. All these encounters, as good-willed and heartening as they may seem, lead more or less to dead ends. Love and desire in a modern-day Chekhov mold.

    – Ron Holloway

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