Friday, June 15, 2018

Olaf Möller: Dominik Graf

Dominik Graf directs Florian Stetter (Friedrich Schiller) in Die geliebten Schwester.

Dominik Graf is one of the mere handful of living movie masters born and very active in the Federal Republic of Germany. If he’s not as well known as he deserves outside the confines of his native land then this is due to his particular career trajectory: Graf works mainly in television – of his more than seventy works, only about one-tenth was made for a cinema release.

Public television, for Graf, was always a utopia: The lone sphere of production left in the FRG that functioned somewhat similar to the Hollywood of yore – a place where you could do stuff the Hawks or Selander way and whip out entertainments by the dozen, prêt-à-porter flicks that the smart and curious knew how to use as vessels for subversive ideas; and as Tatort: Der rote Schatten (2017), Graf’s most recent experiment in avant-garde and enlightenment for the tube masses shows: It still works – when he president of the republic voices his displeasure about your cop show’s politics you know you hit a nerve… Cinema became, more by default than design, the space for grand totals: Masterpieces like his heist thriller Die Katze (1988), the melodrama Der Felsen (2002) and the heritage film Die geliebten Schwestern (2014) function as grand scale summaries of ideas and aesthetic approaches he’d experimented with on TV. Which is to say that cinema is the place where things get set into stone – and few directors anywhere in the world can claim to have created works like these three just mentioned: Films that managed to become more vibrant and urgent with the years while at the same time also feeling more and more… definite, for want of a better world. Die Katze, Der Felsen, Die geliebten Schwestern: This is how civilized life is in all its contradictory craziness and beauty.

Graf (* 1952, Munich) was born into cinema, television theatre and literature: His father Robert (whose life and legacy is at the centre of Denk’ ich an Deutschland in der Nacht…: Das Wispern im Berg der Dinge, 1997) was arguably the most charismatic as well as gifted actors of the young FRG; his mother Selma Urfer, started out as an actress but later focused on writing. Listening to Graf talking about his childhood and youth one gets the impression that he was brought up by the best and brightest in Adenauer-Germany’s world of letters and performing arts. Graf originally chose a different road: He became a musician – and only after that turned to cinema. At the HFF in Munich (the same school Mika Kaurismäki attended), Graf belonged to a rebellious generation: They wanted to make popular movies, not the elitist stuff their predecessors like Wim Wenders unleashed upon the undiscriminating middle-brow sucker masses in Cannes and Venice. With the mid-length and deliciously Rohmer’ian Der kostbare Gast (1979), Graf got first recognized; the TV-coming of age film Treffer (1984) and the series Der Fahnder (which started in ‘85) established him as an auteur to watch; his third feature for cinema, Die Katze, became a sensation that established him as one of the nation’s greatest – an estimation that hasn’t changed since, doesn’t matter all the ups and downs where masses of awards go hand in hand with box office disasters and bouts of public outrage for messing around with beloved concepts and figures. Graf is the one who pushes the envelope. Graf provokes. Graf is the gold standard of FRG moving image excellence. Graf is the real thing.

Olaf Möller

Midnight Sun Film Festival, 2018

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