No Place to Go | Chicago Reader

No Place to Go

This is a film that grows on you. At its center—and to its right and left, for that matter—is the figure of “Hanna Flanders,” a transparent pseudonym for writer Gisela Elsner, real-life mother of the film's writer-director, Oskar Roehler. Neither homage nor expose, the film traces, in high-contrast black and white and laconically distanced melodramatic vignettes, the last two and a half years of Elsner's life—one long prelude to her suicide in 1992. Roehler doesn't give us much to work with. His Gisela Elsner (a tour de force performance by Hannelore Elsner, no relation) is a pathetic, over-the-hill lush who spends most of the film tottering around in stiletto heels, draped in haute couture, and sporting a very black, very big wig. Deeply mired in self-pity, she blunders from confrontation to confrontation. Of her life's work we know nothing, except that its day has come and gone. Her lifestyle is, on the surface at least, pure West German capitalism, but her political and artistic allegiances apparently lie to the east. The film opens with her umpteenth suicide attempt, interrupted by televised images of the fall of the Berlin Wall; she most emphatically does not share the widespread jubilation. For as long as the country was divided, her internal contradictions could coexist in the world, but under reunification she has no place to go. Moving freely between west and east, she must drag her contradictions along with her. As the film progresses it seems amazing that she—and her country—have lived with them so long. 100 min.

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