Review: This Ain’t California

4 thoughts on “Review: This Ain’t California”

  1. You make a reasonable point about the complex nature of related history, but as someone who came of age in 1989, I would argue that the recent political history of Germany is too raw and too important to be obfuscated (q.v. the outcry over people who pretended to be holocaust survivors).

    What I find particularly egregious about this film is the way in which it uses the tropes of advertising to spin a story about a “cool” topic that has considerable social and marketing appeal to a certain demographic that can be commercially exploited. This film has been shown at several mainstream skateboarding conventions (read: marketing events for the multi-million-dollar skate industry). Since watching the film, I have spoken to several young (i.e. not alive in 1989) people who saw no reason to question that the film was anything but 100% genuine. As such it is as effective a piece of propaganda as anything produced by the former GDR. Generation Y needs to get wise. Its postmodernist doublethink leads only to its exploitation.

    Your phrase “Denis himself may have been merely fibbing”, also reveals that you miss what for me was the most insulting detail of the film: that this individual never existed, let alone got killed in action in Afghanistan as we are emotionally manipulated to believe by the main narrative arc of the film. The film states that “Denis” was born in 1970, thus making him – at 41yrs – far too old to be on active front line military service as depicted in the film. Furthermore, a couple of iPhone clicks on the Bundeswehr casualty lists while watching the movie told me that no-one answering that description was killed in an event of that nature in Afghanistan in 2011. The German deaths that year were all in multiple-casualty IED bombings, not firefights, and all the involved soldiers were much younger.

    All this is not to day that I seek only veracity in film, but “unreliable documentaries” (see Banksy, “Exit through the gift shop”) when done well, usually drop their viewer some cues, or have the confidence to admit to their tricksiness after the fact. The director and producer of this film have been defensive and avoidant in the extreme, and continued to be so at a recent Q&A that I attended in Vancouver. I think this reflects their own lack of confidence at exactly what their well-made, nostalgic skatewear advert is doing in a documentary programme.

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    1. Sorry for the delay in response – I have been so busy attending the London Film Festival (suffering from film fatigue now).

      I agree with you in parts. I first watched this film when it had only screened in Berlin, long before it was released in German cinemas (I was previewing it for a festival in London). At the time there were hardly any articles available on the piece (just two or three reviews from the Berlinale), which means I watched it without any knowledge of anything and without any background context in terms of how it was made – just as a film as a creation in its own right. Indeed, I watched it only knowing the title and nothing else. As such, I think the film works wonderfully and such as I will defend it – because I think every creative work exists as such – who made it, how and why are entirely irrelevant (going back to Barthes’s ‘The author is dead’).

      When I rewatched it months later, This Ain’t California had screened in German cinemas and there were suddenly a whole lot of articles about it, including quite a few raising the controversy about the making-of. That I found disillusioning – not the fact that the film is partially fictional or what was fictionalised specifically, but the fact the filmmakers refuse to make any clear statements about it – because they could have just as much presented the film as a mockumentary or a fictional story, and it would have worked as such – because, as I said, it can stand on its own as a creative piece.

      Personally it does not matter to me whether Denis existed or not (something you find very upsetting), the only thing that bothers me retrospectively is the filmmakers’ attitude, which seems unnecessarily dishonest. I have no direct connection to German history, so I don’t feel the ‘rawness’ of it myself, but I suppose if you are German or closely connected to Germany and perhaps experienced the fall of the Berlin wall, I could well understand that you find the fictionalised aspects of the film insulting. That said, I also think truth in history is elusive and any documentary is subjective and will contain things that from other people’s perspective are completely distorted. For me, in the end, the film is a superbly made creative piece that conveys certain feelings very effectively, but using both things factual and fictional. I just wish the filmmakers would have been more open about the latter.

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