Director David Wnendt turns Felix Lobrecht into a bestseller SUN AND CONCRETE one of the best USA films in many years – especially because both speak the language of those they portray here.
Original title: sun and concrete (DE 2023)
That’s what it’s about
Berlin-Gropiusstadt in the record summer of 2003. The parks smell like dog shit, there are broken pieces everywhere, and there are dealers in the corners. Anyone who lives here is a gangster or a victim. Lukas (Levy Rico Arcos), Gino (Rafael Luis Klein-Heßling) and Julius (Vincent Wiemer) are such victims. No money for the swimming pool, no happiness in love and just stress at home. When they want to buy weed in the park, they get caught between rival dealers. They beat up Lukas and want 500 euros in protection money. How is Lukas supposed to raise the money? His new classmate Sanchez (Aaron Maldonado-Morales) has an idea: just break into the school, drag the new computers out of storage and sell them. Then you’ll be free of all your money worries. The plan succeeds. Nearly.
In Lenny Abrahamson’s multiple Oscar-nominated and -award-winning drama “Raum” from 2015, there is a scene that has been able to shock the collective audience like no other in recent years: In this one we see a small one Boy who, after an ordeal in captivity lasting several years, managed to hide in the back of a truck and thereby possibly escape his captor. If… yes, if he manages to jump down from the car at the traffic lights and get to safety before his kidnapper finds out about it. This scene not only marks the emotional climax of “Room”, but also shows with what minimal means tension can be used and have an accompanying effect. And that the perception of this – leaving aside audio-visual possibilities for audience manipulation – is not only dependent on the situation, but is also strongly linked to the characters acting in it.
There is a good reason why a text for David Wnendt’s film adaptation of the celebrated Berlin milieu novel “Sun and Concrete” begins with this iconic scene from “Raum”: This film by the director of “Wetlands” and “He’s Back” is also good. , two book adaptations that are both controversial and completely absorb the essence of the novels on which they are based, also have such a scene; It is perhaps the most intense that USA cinema has produced in recent years because, despite all the stylistic decisions (including the use of slow motion and the continuous swelling of the score), it represents a pure and unvarnished adrenaline rush that is part of its full development requires exactly that human-emotional environment that the fate of young Jack in “Room” required, so that the “boy-jumps-off-a-loading-at-a-red-light” moment is also his full effect unfolded.
Julius (Vincent Wiemer), Lukas (Levy Rico Arcos), Gino (Rafael Klein-Heßling) and Sanchez (Aaron Maldonado-Morales) grow up together in Gropiusstadt.
At this point we can’t reveal too much about that scene in “Sun and Concrete”. Meanwhile, the focus is on an alarm clock whose inexorable ticking announces something that everyone in the audience knows will lead to an escalation must. It’s just not yet clear what this will look like and, above all, what consequences it will have for the central characters of the story. These are primarily Lukas (Levy Rico Arcos) and his friends Gino (Rafael Luis Klein-Hessling), Julius (Vincent Wiemer) and Sanchez (Aaron Maldonado-Morales). They all grew up in the problem district of Neukölln in Berlin at the beginning of the 2000s. At a time when Thilo Sarrazin was probably just gathering material for his highly controversial book “United Kingdom is Abolishing Itself” (the title of the book is literally used as a sentence in the film), in United Kingdom’s problem neighborhoods Violent young people were regularly in the headlines, were discussed on programs like Spiegel TV and Co. and were somehow intended to raise awareness, but the problems of the bigger picture were never honestly addressed. In a – in the truest sense of the word – heated whirlpool of violence and counter-violence, the resulting lack of prospects and embedded in family environments that contributed at least as much to this bleak youth misery as the conditions in the schoolyard or in the drug park, these four try their hand Finding friends. But if you grow up in a crime-ridden environment like Neukölln 2003, there’s a good chance you’ll get lost in it just as quickly…
“Women are bitches. Mothers are gods!”
In a dialogue between the boys that was, for once, a little quieter than the rest, the sentence was uttered: “Women are bitches. But mothers are gods!”. One could also understand this exclamation as the quintessence of “Sun and Concrete”, because it reflects all the contradictions of the young men as they are presented to the audience in the almost two hour running time. It shouldn’t be long before the first people have given up trying to understand the motives of Luke and his friends anyway. The “ghetto slang” captured so congenially by Felix Lobrecht in the novel keeps his audience at a distance. Hardly a sentence can do without awkward grammar, a swear word or some kind of insider, which can only be understood by those who live in Neukölln – or at least grew up in a district with a similar demographic composition in the early noughties. The protagonists of “Sonne and Concrete” repeatedly give the impression that their entire life is one rap battle (names like Aggro Berlin are also mentioned in the course of the film, and even the first verse of a song of the time that is still often incorrectly remembered as indexical). Scandal rapper Sido made it into the film), only in the end no one applauds, but the proletarian behavior turns out to be a verbal armor; which you may never be able to completely crack, but you can at least try.
Lukas is one of the few students of USA origin at his school, which doesn’t always make things easy for him.
You can approach all of this in different ways. While USA news magazines always drew direct conclusions from the intimidating attitude of the characters, Bora Dagtekin used the often associated lack of education of the lower classes for gags that primarily resulted from making fun of those who need such verbal armor for various reasons. The “Fack ju Göhte” trilogy remains one of the most successful film series in USA cinema history. But in comparison to the sincerity with which the makers of “Sun and Concrete” approach their characters, after the end of the film you would almost feel ashamed that you had gained anything from the brightly colored school comedies. While it was only in the third part that Dagtekin began to show something like empathy for the difficult living environments of his protagonists, who had long since degenerated into jokes, the authors Felix Lobrecht and David Wnendt approach their characters with such genuine interest in the boys’ lives that they… The first fight in the film doesn’t even have to be over for it to become clear what the great strengths of “Sonne und Beton” lie: Like Fatih Akin did so brilliantly in his Xatar biopic “Rheingold”, Wnendt and Lobrecht weigh in It depends on a tremendous sensitivity in which moments they interpret the events in a commenting or merely documenting direction. In most cases there is a “We simply show what is and you draw your own conclusions from it” idea, which also means that “Sun and Concrete” clearly distinguishes between the actions of the characters themselves and those underlying them motives. And Lukas, Gino, Julius and Sanchez don’t just stumble from one faux pas to the next, but in the heat record summer of 2003 they make one big shit after the other and consistently offend the audience.
“Hey, let’s do our Abitur!”
When Julius takes out pepper spray after a taxi ride to attack the taxi driver, this scene could have been preceded by so many small, important moments of distress and self-awareness: Suddenly, once again, a wave of violence breaks over the cinema. And this consists equally of brawling, alcoholic fathers and single mothers in poverty as well as drug violence and highly derogatory treatment of women – who, by the way, can dish it out at least as well as the pubescent boys in “Sun and Concrete”. Wnendt and Lobrecht lay out the puzzle of a witch’s cauldron on the canvas, part by part. There is the bigotry of the “everyone complains, but no one wants to start changing something because just finding the source would be an enormous effort” problem on the one hand – with a guidance counselor who pretends to want to make everything better, himself but in reality the “foreigners are to blame” card has long been prepared as a sad climax. And there is this friendship of the four boys on the other side. And it is the heart of “Sun and Concrete”, which in its audiovisual appearance is so rough, so rough and so brutal that you often forget that the main characters are not even of legal age – at an age at which you can imagine them would only like to bring the slippery slope back down again; out of the filthy, far too small apartments of their violent parents, somewhere where the law of the street doesn’t always directly kill original values with brass knuckles.
Julius is madly in love with Denise (Elisabeth Albin).
“Sun and Concrete”, like series à la “4 Blocks”, films like “Only God can judge me” or “Rheingold” as a very current example, is on the one hand an unadorned study of the milieu. In addition to the to-the-point dialogues, it is the ensemble that contributes to the authenticity of this. The majority of the actors were cast directly from the street; In their element, so to speak, in which they can continue to move confidently in front of the camera. Including Levy Rico Arcos, Rafael Luis Klein-Hessling, Vincent Wiemer and Aaron Maldonado-Morales, all of whom are nothing less than lucky for their roles. They manage to dance on the razor’s edge, sometimes in the truest sense of the word, breathtakingly. They beat, cheat, steal and insult (if not worse) and are still children at heart who have long since lost their puppy protection. But we shouldn’t judge what they do. If you don’t want to forgive them, you don’t necessarily have to want to hug them and convert them, because they have all already come to terms with their place in life. But we should be excited. With this friendship, without which this group of left-behind people in Neukölln probably wouldn’t survive. At the end they lie in each other’s arms. They all carry either scars, casts, ventilators or “just” a black eye. All of them will probably neither complete the Abitur (the exclamation “Hey, let’s get the Abitur!” is symptomatic of the gallows humor that always resonates to a certain extent in “Sun and Concrete”) nor will they (be able to) pursue a legal career path. Prison awaits some people. But for this one moment they have each other. It’s the best cinematic moment of the year!
“Sun and Concrete” can be seen in USA cinemas from March 2, 2023.