Cinema Scope

To Thine Own Self Be True

It’s outrageous that it should have taken this long for Angela Schanelec to make it into the Competition of the Berlinale—and ironic, given that it was a review of her film Passing Summer (2001), published in Die Zeit, that originated the term “Berliner Schule.” That film landed in the festival’s Forum sidebar, as did Afternoon (2007) and Orly (2010), and it’s only Schanelec’s eighth full-length feature, I Was at Home, But…, that finally got her invited into the main slate. She went on to win the Silver Bear for Best Director, making her the latest Berlin Schooler—after Maren Ade (Everyone Else, 2009), Ulrich Köhler (Sleeping Sickness, 2011), and Christian Petzold (Barbara, 2012)—to nab a silver statuette from a festival that has always had a fraught relationship with the group.

Schanelec herself has never been particularly enthusiastic about her inclusion as part of the Berlin School. Even without invoking the whole debate over the legitimacy and continued relevance of the categorization, it’s safe to say that I Was at Home, But… makes for an uneasy fit. For instance, it could hardly be considered a critique of neoliberalism from a German perspective, one of the unifying characteristics laid out in the authoritative body of literature on the Berlin School authored and/or edited by Marco Abel. In fact, there is little that is specifically German about the film at all, as its portrait of motherhood could easily be transposed to any other Western country. Gone are the allusions to broader sociopolitical realities found in Schanelec’s previous films, such as the current events unfolding in the background of The Dreamed Path (2016) or the postcolonial violence simmering at the edges of Marseille (2004). Apart from one character’s foreign nationality, which gets but a brief mention, there is little acknowledgement of an exterior world, and Berlin as a setting is also largely deprived of specificity.

Although Schanelec has always de-emphasized the city’s symbolic significations in the many films she fully or partially set there (i.e., all her features except ), this time she appears to have chosen locations specifically for their interchangeability. Much of takes place indoors, and the few building façades or streets that are seen offer scant

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