Monday, 2 February 2015

Spieltrieb (4 Stars)

"The Devil is the oldest friend of knowledge" (Friedrich Nietzsche).

"Spieltrieb" is a difficult word to translate into English. I checked online dictionaries and found they suggested "play instinct", but that's wrong. "Gambling addiction" is closer to the meaning, but still not quite right. "Instinct" is too weak and "addiction" is too strong. A parallel expression is "Sextrieb", i.e. "sex drive", which means an urge to have sex, but not necessarily an addiction. "Spieltrieb" is an urge to play games or gamble. The comparison between a sex drive and a "gambling drive" is relevant to the film, because the main character, Alev, is impotent and replaces his missing sexuality with games.

This German film, made in 2010, has many parallels with "Heathers", as will be apparent from the summary. Ada Fischer is the most intelligent girl at a private school in Bonn. She's only 15, but she has skipped two classes and is now in a class with children two years older than herself. This makes her an outsider. She's bullied by her classmates. When the other girls sit talking about boys and fashion she sits alone reading books in Russian.

A new boy is transferred to her school. Alev, 18, is handsome and immediately attracts attention from the girls. He flirts with them, but he only gets close to Ada and confesses to her that he can never get an erection. He professes a great love for games, a "Spieltrieb", and says that he would like to play a game with Ada. When she asks if she is to be his opponent or his partner he avoids giving a direct answer, and the question remains unanswered for the rest of the film. The game is for her to seduce her sports teacher and then blackmail him. This isn't meant to destroy the teacher or just get money out of him, Alev says that it's meant to make the teacher happier and a better man. At first Ada refuses -- after all, she's still a virgin -- but then she's shaken up by three suicide attempts, one of them successful. First her sports teacher's wife attempts to drown herself, but Ada sees her and rescues her. Then her history teacher kills himself, and Ada is the one who finds his body. Then her mother attempts suicide by taking tablets. This convinces Ada that she has to do something with her life, so she decides to play Alev's game. Despite being a virgin seduction is an easy game for her. The teacher is a good man and refuses her advances, but as soon as she takes off her clothes his "Sextrieb" kicks in and he's unable to resist. Game over.

"Games? I always win".

The director unsettles the viewer by building anachronisms into the film. The story takes place today (2010), as is made clear by the modern laptops and references to the Iraq War, but the children don't have mobile phones and they listen to music on LPs. It might not be apparent from my description, but this is a deeply philosophical film. It begins with Nietzsche and ends at the Temple of Apollo in Greece. There are so many lines of dialogue thrown into the film that made me jump up and pay attention, so much that I could quote, but I'll leave you with just one line spoken by Ada:

"Everyone lives inside a myth. We only question the myth when something bad happens and we think all is lost".

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