HFBK Newsletter, July 2008,
by Olaf Möller

Robert Bramkamp, Professor at the HFBK in Hamburg since April 2008, is a master of the filmic experiment. So far he has produced four full-length feature films that refuse to conform to any genre. His work is therefore extremely important to German cinema. Each of these works stands for itself and is a prototype that sets a seal to the dominant zeitgeist and its reflection – a reflection that brings values and insights that reach far beyond the immediate present.

If this sounds paradoxical, this is only the beginning. When dealing with Bramkamp, ambivalences must be tolerated, while complexities and contradictions must be loved. The reward is agitation films for scientific curiosity and everyday humour, as Bramkamp once described his smart comedy Die Eroberung der Mitte (1995). This can be said pars pro toto for his work as a whole. Words that have become rather neglected in contemporary usage such as “cunning”, “subtle” and “friendly” (in Brecht’s sense) are equally appropriate as descriptions for Bramkamp’s prototypes.

It was a long time before Robert Bramkamp finally left his native Münster. He was born there in 1961, studied German literature and film and finally produced his first videos and Super-8 films at the Münster Filmwerkstatt. At the age of 29 he made his way north to Hamburg, then to Berlin and Potsdam where he taught filmmaking at the Filmhochschule Konrad Wolf. Prüfstand 7 (2001), Bramkamp’s penultimate long work to date, probably comes closest to what one imagines under the term prototype. Although the film is ultimately closed and coherent, it also has a bold provisional character that is extremely open: a film of new departures that is entirely in tune with the turn of the millennium and the new dimensions of space brought about by the Internet; a film about the times, and thus a time document. Prüfstand 7 is generally described as an essay on the history of the V-2 rocket imagined in relation to passages from Thomas Pynchon’s novel Gravity’s Rainbow (1973). The plot – this is a totally appropriate word for the search of Bianca, the rocket’s ghost, for her origins – does not follow a particular dramaturgical arc, but permanently mutates as it goes along. In principle, one could leave the film at any point and still have the impression of having seen something contained – which changes nothing of the fact that Prüfstand 7 finally ends with an apotheosis of love. Since ultimately the film does have a clear course, a spiritual vector: from the historical reality of death to a supra-temporal utopia of love. What can one really want if one refuses love?
Der Bootgott vom Seesportclub. Die 100 ME/1 (2006) takes this fertile proliferation even further, beyond film itself – which strikes a humble attitude in relation to the monumental fable of the reincarnated Sumerian god Enki who wants to bring the tools of cultural creation to the people in the new Mesopotamia of the German Federal Republic between Glubigsee and Scharmützelsee – and beyond to the rest of the nation via Internet where one can support Enki’s activities at (realised with the artist Susanne Weirich). The film is therefore only a part of the narration, which constantly creates itself/is created. It is therefore fitting that it essentially only wants to describe the lives of its protagonists – who, apart from a few troublesome actors, are all members of the Wendisch-Rietz lakeside sports club – with fine caméra-stylo, in the boldest neo-realistic style, in relation to the myth and hence the possible. The ruptures and porosity allow room for change. The film itself is perhaps merely a membrane, whose permeability is yet to be explored. Bramkamp, it seems, tries not to repeat himself. There are indeed certain basic constants – primarily the work with language inspired by Jean-Marie Straub. However, the constants always have a different character depending on the kind of experiment. In the short film Der Mann am Fenster (1989), for instance, the act of talking develops a brittle-resistant pathos; in Beckerbillet (1992) on the other hand, it has something self-consciously clumsy, which knows how to get around different forms of control; in Gelbe Sorte it has something down-to-earth and mischievous; finally, in Bramkamp’s probably best known film, Die Eroberung der Mitte, language finally becomes a trap.
While Prüfstand 7 and Der Bootgott vom Seesportclub. Die 100 ME/1 cultivates a poetically, polymorphically perverse hybridity, forcefully mixing different film and video materials, Die Eroberung der Mitte has something glacially closed, crystalline. The film is a comedy about the raging psycho-fascism of its period: therapists remake souls according to norms, the borders between individuality and its imitation become all the more transparent the more the citizen is subject to analysis. Healing and control are closely linked; everyone carries around several alternative identities, just as everyone also seems to have something up their sleeve against everyone else: video images, photos, or memories. When Wolke Donner (Karina Fallenstein) undresses to take a shower, the brief moment of her nakedness has something shockingly absolute: in the labyrinth of ambiguities, her body seems like the only true measure. But this could also be a trap. Only resoluteness helps. In a paranoid universe such as that of Die Eroberung der Mitte, one has to decide on an escape plan. Everything else can be arranged around this. Only then is it possible to make the next move.

Also pubished in
TAZ, 23.11.2004
Zeitgeist in Glacial Ice. Film as Prototype

Babylon Mitte is showing a series of films by Robert Bramkamp, who teaches filmmaking at the Filmhochschule Konrad Wolf. In each film, he changes the experimental set-up of thought Robert Bramkamp at Babylon Mitte: 23.11., 8 pm, Gelbe Sorte, 24.11., 8 pm, short films, 27.11., 8 pm, Die Eroberung der Mitte, 10 pm Prüfstand 7