Christiane F. – We Children from Bahnhof Zoo by Ulli Edel represents something unique in German cinema. The film was released in 1981, a year before Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s death, the point in time which critics seem to agree marks the end of New German Cinema. The style of the film however, derivative of neo-realism, puts it in the same vein as the films of Volker Schlondorff and Margarethe von Trotta. Like the latter’s The Lost Honor Of Katharina Blum, Christiane F. is an unflinching expose’ on a corrupt sociological phenomena in West Germany, though this time the corruption is not manifest in the media, but rather a disenfranchised drug addicted youth.
Christiane F. – We Children from Bahnhof Zoo was also one of the most internationally successful German films of either the 1970s or the 1980s. The whole youth of Europe began to emulate the title character (based on a real life girl of the same name, whose source was a book which also shared the title of the film). This is important because the success of Edel’s film far surpasses that of his contemporaries which include von Trotta, Schlondorff, Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog and of course R. W. Fassbinder. One reason may be that until that moment, few German films catered to the youth market, or it could be the soundtrack by David Bowie that helped publicize the film elsewhere (Bowie also appears in the film performing the title track to his album Station to Station). Regardless, where Edel may not have critically surpassed his peers, he certainly out did them in ticket returns and demonstrated that financially (and not just critically) West Germany had become a cinematic entity to be reckoned with.
However, by 1983 German cinema again began to dissipate from the consciousness of international cinema and would not re-emerge till the mid-1990s. In this interim, most filmmakers of the New German cinema would migrate to Hollywood, leaving only a few critically successful filmmakers behind to preserve the national cinema of Germany that took the entire 1960s to reconstruct. Fassbinder’s final film Querrelle and Christiane F. would be the high water mark for German cinema, in regards to both financial and critical success. Since its release in the U.S., Christiane F. has become a cult classic, with only very limited home video releases. This brings me to a rather odd occurrence. The DVD for the film from Image Entertainment (there is no other DVD release in America) has no subtitles. Instead, one has the option to either watch the film in dubbed English or its original German. Strange stuff. I think you should seek this title out; cause chances are you haven’t been exposed to much of New German Cinema.
3 recommended texts on New German Cinema:
The Altering Eye by Robert Phillip Kolker
Emotion Pictures by Wim Wenders
Understanding Rainer Werner Fassbinder by Wallace Watson