Dir.: Christian Labhart; Documentary; Switzerland 2019, 80 min.
Christian Labhart was only fifteen in 1968 but he dreamt of changing the world. And that society would transcend into a utopia of human brotherhood. Fifty years later he reflects on episodes from his own life, trying to understand how they fit—if they do at all—with the major changes of the world. And what happened to his Marxist pretensions?.
Told in chapters to the music of Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion, and quotes from Brecht, Kafka and Guy Debord among others, Labhard feels his dreams have come to nothing. Starting with police forces guarding the G20 meeting in Hamburg in 2017, Labhart remembers how he demonstrated against the Vietnam War back in 1968, and swore he would never end up like his bourgeois parents. But contemporary images of the glitzy entertainment world show examples of what Guy Dbord calls “the empire of modern passivity”; alienation and fragmentation having replaced human interaction.
Labhard goes back to 1977 with the protests against nuclear power stations, the rise of violence with the Baader-Meinhof Group; Ulrike Meinhof describing four years in solitary confinement as “akin to being in a house of mirrors, the skin being torn off, and even visits leaving no trace”. Only the once weekly bath gave some relief. In 1980, Labhart was disillusioned with the way things were going, and so with some friends he moved to the countryside, “where they were very tired from work”, but still could not make a living.
After Chernobyl, Labhart and his wife abandoned their farm to become teachers, job-sharing making it possible to rear two kids who then became the entire focus of their lives. After the fall of the wall in 1989, the director visits Bulgaria, his images of deserted communist party buildings are akin to the relics from ‘Planet of the Apes’: the remains of a culture long lost. With communism dead in the water, Labhart reflect, along with the poet Dorothee Sölle: “This cannot have been all”.
The fall of the Twin Towers in 2001 finds the director in a rather sanguine mood in his home in the leafy suburbs: the kids have given the couple a new outlook in life. Starting out as a filmmaker, he asks: “Can I change reality by representing it?” Then quoting Arundhati Roy “How deep shall we dig, to find the courage to dream”. The big cities are full of impressive but austere architecture, a built environment of post-industrial waste. The Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2008 falls at a time when the children leave home – Labhart is bereft.
Across five continents he still tries to find a way out of the capitalist jungle that has swallowed up his world. Global warming, war, overconsumption, refugee crises, inequality. Between Revolt and Resignation grows more or more despondent as new conflicts explode nearly every day. In a chapter about Poetry and Uprising, Franco Bifo Berardi is quoted “is useless to burn down a bank, as financial power is not in the physical building, but in the abstract connections between numbers and algorithms.” The chapter about 2011-2015 is entitled “What to be done?” and features the Syria War and the Arab Spring which brings to mind the director’s feelings in 1968.
After this, everything starts to break down, with brutal images in a Buenos Aires slaughter house, ads for Land Rovers, claiming that “Real Life is the greatest adventure”. The closing line is from Brecht “What an age, when to speak of trees is almost a crime. But how can I eat and drink, when my food is snatched from the hungry?”
Whilst Labhart ends on a defensive note “I don’t question the goal, only because we have not reached it”. Puo Corradi and Simon Guy Fässler’s visuals tell a different story: the planet has become the image of a society hellbent on self-destruction. Labhart’s essay is very much a long goodbye to hope. AS
VISIONS DU REEL | 5 -13 APRIL 2019