I am Carl

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1982.
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By VALERIA DOS SANTOS GUIMARÃES*

Commentary on the film directed by Christian Schwochow

Good film, sometimes too schematic, sometimes aimed at converts. But, in general, it competently addresses the rise of the new extreme right in Europe and shows how the exchanged signals serve as a warning for those who still think that having a “modern”, “cool” way, being lgbtqia+, giving protagonism to women , being a rocker or rapper, going to clubs, drinking and using drugs, wearing black clothes and still saying “libertarian” is a sign of being progressive.

The party in a nightclub in Strasbourg, which precedes the meeting of this group of young people (all white) who call themselves Re-generation Europe with the candidate from the French extreme right, is full of allusions to this confusion of signs that already appeared in the film before, but which here reach their apex. The candidate, not by chance, is a clear allusion to Marine Le Pen, who also incorporated so-called progressive agendas and recently moderated the speech with the aim of reaching an audience less accustomed to the slogans of hate, but which is dissatisfied with the escalation of violence generally attributed to dangereuses classes in which the stereotype of the immigrant fits so well, mainly Muslims, working class par excellence in France.

Nationalism, incidentally, is also reflected at the end of the candidate’s rally, with everyone singing the Marseillaise at the top of their lungs – no longer a symbol of the ideals of the French Revolution, nor of the nationalism that marked the chanting of the anthem in the Franco-Prussian War (1870 -71). Even the young Germans present chanted “Aux armes citoyens! Formez vos bataillons! marchons, marchons..." ended animated to the screams of "Vive la France!” – showing Europe no longer divided between Latins and Pan-Germans, but united against the common enemy.

As is known, Le Pen is responsible for the phrase “Enough of this left and right. That doesn't exist anymore", repeated at a certain point by the protagonist Karl (Jannis Niewöhner), giving those who watch the film that feeling of "I've heard that somewhere". Karl is young, communicative, with a peaceful appearance and almost anodyne (and androgynous), and he puts all his persuasion power into action in leading the group and in the seduction of Maxi (Luna Wedler), the girl who lost her family in a provoked attack. by Karl himself – which she obviously has no idea about.

Strasbourg, in turn, is a city known for being the scene of historical disputes and whose borders embody the symbolism of the fluidity of cultural transit in that region and, mainly, of the repeated supposed German superiority over France. In the club, a hymn of religious tones is sung in chorus, “Everything must change”, and precedes the distribution of “candies”, given as hosts to the initiates. All in black, makeup, stoned and drinking heavily. Soon the MDMA takes effect and the libido soars, exposed in a sexuality free from traditional restraints. Girls and boys kiss a lot, dancing under lights and loud music mixing slogans spoken by the vocalist who sings a rap in French "A la guerre, a la guerre!” and everyone jumps and screams together, and full of hate they are led by the singer who exhorts them with the verb in the imperative “Tout le monde fais ce signe, tout le monde fais ce signe!” (All make this sign!), showing the left fist clenched and raised. Once again a symbol of resistance from the left is appropriate, but here held in the right hand: the Wrist Movement which appears shortly before mentioned on a flag extended at the head of Karl's bed. For an unwary eye, it is difficult to imagine that a right-wing youth party was taking place there, with so many commonplaces generally attributed to anti-system “deviates” – the war “against the system” is now no longer the same. Once characteristic of left-wing protests, it is annulled by its inverted use.

days before one meeting organization had taken place in Prague, but the format was that of an academic congress, another habitat for young university students suitable for the dissemination of nationalist platforms under the cover of serious academic research. Even the badge distribution table and bag were there, except that in place of the program brochure, paper and pen, there was the black T-shirt of the re-generation, whose geometric symbol alludes to the Identity Generation, a white nationalist and Islamophobic French far-right group dissolved by official order in March 2021, accused of inciting hatred. There, the leaders promised to save the future of Europe while the reconciliation was made based on gin gifts, distributed free of charge in a festive atmosphere. One "gin-generation", such as an influencer publicizing the event identifies the group to their social networks, full of videos and posts watered to thousands of likes.

The film clearly shows, among other themes, how the extreme right has vampirized forms of youth expression, from the university environment to night parties, including symbols previously more associated with rebellion than with conservatives in order to seduce young people to their platform of intolerance and suprematism, especially those who find themselves vulnerable due to the lack of hope nourished by the current phase of capitalism. Yes, in the specific case of the film, attacks forged by the organization itself (including the death of the leader in order to turn him into a martyr) are used to convert even those who come from families that defend humanitarian values, but are terrified of insecurity. However, it is clear that it is the climate of general social degradation and inequality in the world that deepens this fear, in this case, personified by the specter of immigration.

These young people no longer embody the stereotype of skinhead, military clothes, fighting props, tattoos on the face and arms, aggressive and masculine look, cult of Hitler, leather jackets full of patches of swastikas and Nazi salutes like sieg heil, an expression that is even identified in the film as “a thing of the past” to be avoided. Is this true mixed which helps to confuse and convince more and more disillusioned and hopeless young people.

Also noteworthy is the lead singer, Jitka (Anna Fialová), who embodies the figure of the “cultured” woman, an example of a supposedly prodigy student: at 25, she is praised as the “youngest and most intelligent university professor of Prague”. Or the “most intelligent in Europe”, as she herself corrects, in a clear irony by director Christian Schwochow about the self-esteem of this people fake, but very sure of himself – which helps to convince even those with some training, let alone those who don't have many references... In an environment where everyone speaks fluently three languages, German, English and French (common in this region European), who have access to a good education system, in which the majority have a higher education (increasingly concluded earlier), the difference with immigrants whose training is, in most cases, precarious and whose “values ​​are different” , as noted at one point, gets even more glaring.

Civilization against barbarism. It will be? Ah, detail, that “cool” woman there is the mother-of-the-household-aggregator whose professional life is valued, but always in favor of “re-generation”. Message clearer impossible. Inversion is used by the director as a warning device, but above all irony. An acidic humor that leaves no doubt where the violence emanates from, despite all its supposed “enlightenment” and its fight against the violence of terrorism, disregards the entire colonial history and justifies without scruples its own attitudes, which are more or less terrorist.

Last but not least, the title makes a clear allusion to “I am Charlie” – including the involuntary Islamophobia it aroused. If the original was against bigotry, the slogan “I am Carl” (which is not Marx!) was used here precisely to exalt it, which seems to show that the central role of the film is less to denounce the rise of these extreme right movements, a phenomenon that we are all familiar with, but to warn how they manifest themselves in ways that are not always so obvious.

*Valéria dos Santos Guimaraes is a professor of history at UNESP.

Reference


I am Carl
Germany / Czech Republic, 2021, 126 minutes
Directed by: Christian Schwochow
Screenplay: Thomas Wendrich
Cast: Jannis Niewöhner, Anna Fialová, Daniela Hirsh, Melanie Fouché

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