Also the novel adaptation BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ had to be postponed many times due to the Corona crisis. Now the massive new interpretation of the well-known story is coming to cinemas with a long delay, but should definitely be enjoyed there. Even if it is not free of weaknesses. We reveal more about this in our review.
Francis wants to break away from Reinhold (Albrecht Schuch) and go his own way.
The plot summary
This is the story of Francis (Welket Bungué). While fleeing from Africa to Europe, he capsizes and uses his last strength to save himself on a beach on the Mediterranean coast. There he swears to God that from now on he wants to be a good, decent person. Francis’ path soon leads to Berlin and now it’s up to him to keep his vow. But the living conditions as a stateless refugee don’t make it easy for him. Fate will put him to a tough test. Then he meets the shady German drug dealer Reinhold (Albrecht Schuch) and the lives of the two men combine to form a dark community of fate. Reinhold tries again and again to use Francis for his own purposes, but he always resists. Finally, Francis is betrayed by Reinhold and loses his left arm in an accident. Francis is taken in by Mieze (Jella Haase) and rescued from his despair. The two fall in love and become a couple. His story could actually end well. But Francis cannot resist Reinhold’s attraction.
It wouldn’t be the first time that a film premiering at the Berlinale has divided audiences. In the case of Burhan Qurbani’s film adaptation of the novel “Berlin Alexanderplatz” it was no different. Here too, opinions differed widely. Ultimately, the positive voices were at least a little louder. The intensive production and the performances of the actors are particularly praised. And last but not least, the craftsmanship and narrative ability to bring a novel published and set in 1929 into the present. The fact that this works so smoothly is primarily due to the fact that the bestseller written by Alfred Döblin addresses topics that are still relevant to society today. The original is about a convict freshly released from prison who tries to build a new life in Berlin during the Weimar Republic, but repeatedly succumbs to the temptations of the big city. “Berlin Alexanderplatz” from 2020 is no longer about Franz Biberkopf, but about Francis, a refugee from Africa for whom the stars align similarly.
The Nazi theme, which takes up quite a lot of space in the book, is no longer present in the 2020 version, even if it would (unfortunately) also have fit into today’s times. But the temptations for Francis look different here. It’s primarily about drugs and sex, which have developed into currency in a kind of hidden Berlin parallel society made up of refugees and those left behind. The descriptions of how Francis is drawn into this community, as a refugee who seems to have little other choice, how he gains dependencies in this unstoppable vortex and gradually loses his own identity, are prepared by the script by Martin Behnke and Burhan Qurbani (also written together the script for “We are young. We are strong.”) authentically and comprehensibly. So that you feel sorry for Francis up to a certain point and then again and again. “Berlin Alexanderplatz” has always been a study about failure – in this case about failure in the 21st century, where, if everything were fair, there would no longer be any hidden communities as shown here. As a result, “Berlin Alexanderplatz” is reminiscent of Sebastian Schipper’s “Roads” , despite its unique selling point as a three-hour epic , although in the end it spoke less about failure and more about perspectives.
“The descriptions of how Francis is drawn into this community, as a refugee who seems to have little other choice, how he gains dependencies in this unstoppable vortex and gradually loses his own identity, makes the script by Martin Behnke and Burhan Qurbani authentic and comprehensible on.”
Speaking of epics: If you know that in 1980 there was already a 14-episode (!) series with 58 to 112 minutes per episode, a film adaptation of just three hours doesn’t seem that long anymore. But even if the makers can’t expand every stage of Francis’ life according to the original, “Berlin Alexanderplatz” is of course still full of highlights. This is true both in the narrative and in the directorial sense. The authors catapult the viewer from one catastrophe to the next. Even the supposedly harmonious scenes between Francis and his great love Mieze, which at times seem like emotional handholds (the interaction between “Fack ju Göhte” star Jella Haase and Welket Bungué, who is still virtually unknown in this country, is absolutely overwhelming) can only briefly forget their precarious living conditions make. On the other hand, Reinhold, embodied in an outstandingly unscrupulous manner by Albrecht Schuch (“System Sprenger”), and his influence on Francis are omnipresent. But the booming, driving production of the Berlin underworld (camera: Yoshi Heimrath, “The Four Hands” ) as a melting pot of different cultures, a den of sin and a poisoned bringer of hope also unstoppably captivates the audience. In the end, you need time to digest the events that are inexorably heading towards catastrophe.
But Burhan Qurbani also gets bogged down. And that’s primarily because of Mieze’s questionable voice-overs. If this classifies the events surrounding Francis and his fate in Berlin chronologically, but above all morally and emotionally, it shifts a large part of the responsibility for Francis’ actions, whether intentional or unintentional, away from him. Instead of apportioning the blame for the gradual escalation of events according to the descriptions – sometimes the external circumstances push Francis so far into a corner that he can’t help but defend himself with violence, and at other times he seeks it on his own physical conflict – kitty soon finds an excuse for every action. This becomes particularly clear in the statement here, which is recited almost like a mantra “He wanted to be good, but they wouldn’t let him.” This also exists in the original book. But the way it is presented in “Berlin Alexanderplatz,” the script clearly positions Francis as a victim. This is where the story gains in authenticity in the first place, precisely because the boundaries between good and evil are constantly blurred here. By relieving Francis of his responsibility, the creators simply do not do justice to the moral complexity of the original. And that in turn puts a serious damper on the viewing pleasure.
“When Mieze arranges the events surrounding Francis and his fate in Berlin chronologically, but above all morally and emotionally, she shifts a large part of the responsibility for Francis’ actions, whether intentional or unintentional, away from him.”
Because if, as a viewer, you don’t get the opportunity to sort through the events, deal with them and – even that is allowed – to despair every now and then, but instead have all of this told to you by an off-screen voice, you might as well be that Readers are significantly more likely to read a book that they trust.
Conclusion: “Berlin Alexanderplatz” is a powerfully staged new edition of the novel of the century of the same name and impresses with a beguiling atmosphere and outstanding performances, especially by Albrecht Schuch. However, this interpretation does not do justice to the moral ambivalence of the template.
“Berlin Alexanderplatz” can be seen in USA cinemas from July 16th.