The title of Frauke Finsterwalder’s 2013 satire Finsterworld is a play on words. Literally translated to “dark world,” the title’s resemblance to the director’s last name paradoxically connotes her–seemingly hopeful–perspective on the world around her. Finsterwalder’s cinematic world — contemporary Germany — is equally laden with contradiction. Superficially, her film is a vibrant, overly-saturated, whimsical ensemble comedy. Yet, her characters — all loosely connected — are dejected and lonely. Each of them withhold an internal hypocrisy or private life which, if revealed, risks further isolation. Finsterwalder raises the question of whether confronting the truth, personally and nationally, could ever lead to a constructive outcome, or whether facades are the only thing keeping us together.
Human connections in Finsterwalder’s film are tinged with peculiarity. A lonely foot masseuse falls in love with his geriatric client at a retirement home; a man goes to “furry” parties while his documentarian girlfriend tries to force realism in her project; a high school girl and her bully flirt in a caustic manner on a school trip to a concentration camp; a middle-aged bourgeois couple connects over their disgust for the “ugliness” of Germany. Each of these relationships reaches its respective apotheosis as a result of revelation. The masseuse and his client consummate their love, yet she tries to flee when she learns the secret ingredient in his cookies. The documentarian is equally disturbed by discovering her boyfriend’s “furry” fetish. The high school bully insists he comes from a lineage of anti-Nazi resisters, yet locks the girl he flirted with into a concentration camp oven — blaming the gay teacher who found her. The bourgeois woman who refuses to drive “Nazi-cars” — Mercedes, Porsche, BMW — is stunned at her husband’s violent reaction to a misunderstanding with a teenage boy. The catastrophic culmination of her narratives may suggest that Finsterwalder’s outlook adheres to her title’s nihilistic implications. However, as some of her characters insist, there must be hope in Finsterworld.
Although painful, and occasionally terrifying, the divulgence of the truth is already a step in the right direction. Once confronted, it can be handled. However, this relies on the elimination of all falsehoods. Whereas the documentarian and her “furry” boyfriend may still have a future, the high school girl and her bully begin a close relationship under the pretense that he is her savior and not the perpetrator. Finsterwalder posits that progress can only arise out of sober sincerity — personal and national. In this, her film harkens back to the German fairy tale tradition.
Before fairy-tales were adapted “for children,” their stories typically resulted in a form of disillusionment. Their innocence was disrupted as a means to impart a life lesson to the reader. Finsterworld operates in a similar fashion. Its glowing, surreal exterior is promptly informed by a bitter reality that stands in contradistinction to its form. But instead of simply cautioning audiences of the ramifications of sustaining falsehoods, Finsterwalder suggests their deconstruction is essential in curing suppression, isolation, and cycles of harm. The bully who is convinced of his anti-Nazi lineage is ironically homophobic and terrorizing; he is asked to consider collective guilt which could lead to a reconsideration of his actions. The foot masseuse and the “furry” boyfriend begin relationships with their respective partners by concealing parts of their identity — resulting in their partner’s terror upon reveal.
As a young student in the film posits: in lieu of role models, Germany resorts to cover-up schemes. He considers since there are no role-models Germany can look up to and be recognized by internationally, it tries to present itself as contrary to that which it is recognized by – the Third Reich. He suggests everything from German architecture to the flag is intentionally hideous as a means to counteract the “aesthetically pleasing” Nazi designs. Germany, as well as Finsterworld’s characters, are in the midst of a prolonged identity crisis. Falsehoods become the easy way out.
Finsterwalder’s film, while not presenting role models, fulfills the task of the classic fairy-tale; the fantastical imagery alienates, while the thematic content resonates. Its surreal, and at times disturbing, revelations provide the means for reflection and constructive application – personal and national.