State I Am In, The (2000)

A teenage girl and her parents who are far-left terrorists on the run are the focus of this promising and largely riveting feature debut that combines coming-of-age tropes with crime and politics, while at the same time turning some of these conventions upside-down.  

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,191

Dir. Christian Petzold
2000 | Germany | Drama | 102 mins | 1.66:1 | German & Portuguese
Not rated – likely to be PG

Cast: Julia Hummer, Barbara Auer, Richy Muller
Plot: Clara and Hans are left-wing terrorists who have been sought by police for almost fifteen years. Their increasingly rebellious daughter Jeanne begins to pose a threat to their security when she falls in love with a boy she meets on the beach.
Awards: Official Selection (Venice)
International Sales: First Hand Films

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Identity, Politics, Coming-of-Age
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

As the duality of the title already hints, The State I Am In is as much about geography as it is about psychology, both physical and mental as it were. 

Through the eyes of Jeanne, a teenage girl, we witness this tension play out as she tags along with her parents who are hiding from the law. 

They are far-left terrorists whose ideological past has caught up with them as Germany modernises into the 21st century. Their child, stuck with them, hasn’t had a normal childhood. 

A chance encounter with a boy causes Jeanne to fall in love—but can she, in the state that she is in?  It is a dangerous game to play and one wrong move and the life she knows will be over, for better or worse.  So here we have a rather intriguing film, where coming-of-age tropes meet with crime and politics. 

The director is Christian Petzold, one of Germany’s most important contemporary filmmakers, and in this feature debut, we are already seeing a great filmmaker emerging with thought-provoking ideas and a rigourous sense of craft and structure. 

“We’ll do a bank.”
“Are you crazy?”

He employs familiar tropes that we find in thrillers but is also bold enough to turn some of these conventions upside-down, creating suspense and narrative unpredictability. 

One particular example is a road intersection scene where the family stops for the red light only to find themselves surrounded by suspicious cars at all corners. 

By keeping much of the focus on Jeanne, who is adeptly played by Julia Hummer, we are drawn to her desire to be a normal girl as well as her psychological vulnerabilities in coping with post-pubescent matters of romance and figuring out her place in the world. 

The film then becomes a work of questioning conformance—who do we answer to?  Our parents or ourselves?  There probably comes a point in time in our lives when we have to make that hard decision.  For Jeanne, it might come sooner than she imagines. 

Grade: A-


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