FFMUC 2017: The Long Summer of Theory
About 400 meters from my apartment, there is a typical Berlin fallow space. Once upon a time, old and mostly abandoned red brick factory buildings had beenthere, constantly under attack by the rampant nature surrounding it. A romantic non-place near the Hauptbahnhof. However, for some years now, urban development has sought to make this non-place a real place. But till this is accomplished, the romantic wilderness has turned into a disturbing construction site that is paradigmatic for a city and a society that strives for change and development, but has lost sight of its goal or perhaps never set itself a target.
And right there, right around the corner from my apartment, director Irene von Alberti sets her experimental documentary-feature-film The Long Summer of Theory. Her three heroines, embodied by Katja Weilandt, Julia Zange and Martina Schöne-Radunski, live in an old apartment building near the main station that awaits restructuring. They struggle with themselves as well as the world they live in by performing meaningful but rather theatrical dialogues circling around these issues. The women of this film do not work as characters but as types representing ideas and questions. Irene von Alberti does not want to create identification figures in which we as spectators lose ourselves. Instead the director sows ideas that we can nurture within ourselves to see them grow into a variety of ideological plants.
What is identity? Who would I be if I lived a different life? Myself or someone else? The three protagonists are imagining themselves as different contemporary female archetypes – but in the end of the day cannot escape their ego. In the process though, they negotiate current feminist discourses, explain the Bechdel test and use the “sexy-lamp-test” to rate their male co-actors.
But Alberti does not stop here. Her film is about much more than comtemporary feminism. It’s just about everything. Her heroines are discussing right-wing populism, the problem of art in capitalism, epistemology and how to motivate people to actively help shaping the world we live in. They do that not only by debating among themselves, but also in documentary interviews which Nola (Julia Zange) is conducting for a movie within the movie. Experts of cultural studies, politics, feminism, and communication are presenting theories that are subsequently applied by the fictitious framework of the film. Irene von Alberti remains true to the starting point of the film: The long summer of theory is over. She does not allow ideas to float in the realm of the abstract, but rather works with them. If the time of passionate discussions has passed, a new strategy is needed to reflect and change the world. “What can be done?”, the heroines ask themselves (and us). The Long Theory of Summer is the director’s answer to exactly that question.
The Long Summer of Theory breaks with dichotomies such as theory and practice, body and mind, reflection and action. Constantly working on a meta level, the film destroys cinematic illusion and thus the possibility of escape for the spectators, who – just like the three heroines – cannot escape themselves nor their reality by diving into the fiction of this film. Irene von Alberti succeeds in not putting pressure on her audience. She rather encourages questions instead of giving dogmatic answers and even grants her audience an emergency exit, such as the “right to laziness” proclaimed by actress Martina Schöne-Radunski. Von Alberti recognizes society’s pessimism without condemning it. We can get involved in a better world, both on a small or a large scale, but we do not have to. The Long Summer of Theory is not a lecture by a superior mind and suprisingly derives its pervasive power exactly from its reservation.
At this point, I am bold enough to put forth the argument that The Long Summer of Theory is a genuinely female* film. It is female* in so far as it does neither dictate its message in a patriarchal manner nor celebrate its own geniality. The film is feminine in the sense that in the midst of all its clever impulses it also emanates humility, an amiable perplexity that is easy to identify with. In this regard, Irene von Alberti succeeds in delivering a true glimpse of hope. Instead of wallowing in problems, she shows construction sites as well as the buildings that could be created upon them. And so the non-place at the main station of Berlin is no longer an image for disorientation but instead becomes an unlimited space of possibilities.