Another Reality (2019) *** Locarno Film Festival 2019

August 10th, 2019
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Noël Dernesch, Oliver Waldhauer; Documentary; Germany/Switzerland 2019, 96 min.

Hot on the heels of Istanbul United, a portrait of hard-core football fans in the Turkish capital, comes Another Reality: Noël Dernesch and Oliver Waldhauer have spent three years with petty criminals operating in Berlin’s underworld.

Although some are trying to break free from the cycle of compulsive violence, they could have played it differently from the get-go: as one of them confesses: I wanted to join the army, but I have no German passport. Or “I wanted to be a cop, applied for the Police Academy and was accepted. Just before the entrance examination, I committed my first offence. I phoned them, and they said ‘not so bad’. Then came GBH and armed robbery”. They all belong to one extended family, with members living in Lebanon, Palestine, the USA and Sweden. “At my brother’s wedding, there were 900 guests.” Family is the focus of their lives, even their criminal activities are tailored to the protection of their relatives – up to a point. “You don’t shoot somebody in front of their family, you don’t do that”. Striding about the wide open spaces of the now defunct Airport Tempelhof, another admits it all comes down to money, like in the real world. “You have to make ends meet. Look at the Rappers, everybody who thinks that their rapping is telling the truth, has no idea. But what really appeals to them is playing American gangsters”.

This is not a well-intentioned documentary to be shown in sociology classes. For a start the directors have got too close to their subject matter – which might be not be that surprising as they’ve all bonded over the three years of filming. The most important thing to emerge is the connection between Rap and criminality: at least two of the five started a musical career after being released from prison. And although Another Reality loses it distance, it is still a very watchable documentary, showing a parallel universe, and we are all living next to it. 

DoP Friede Clausz make good use of a handheld camera so as not to miss out on any tricks: the more bombastic the manner, the more childish the facial expressions. Women simply do not feature in this sub-society; the men suffer the usual madonna/whore complex, so women are either icons or prostitutes. Family and honour dominate, and a rather strange utopia: “It would be cooler to heal somebody from HIV, being a medic, you know, something like that. That would be much cooler.” AS


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