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Reported Missing

REPORTED MISSING (Die Vermissten) Jan Speckenbach, D 2012, 86 min

On the search for his missing daughter, Lothar discovers that more and more children and adolescents disappear under inexplicable circumstances ...

14-year-old Martha disappears from one day to the next. Her father Lothar hasn‘t been in contact with either his daughter or his ex-wife for years. He soon realizes other young people are also vanishing from the city inexplicably. Lothar follows their trail across the country but makes no headway until he meets 12-year-old Lou. They continue on their journey and encounter militia groups and a reinforced police presence. Slowly, Lothar begins to realize that the world as he knew it has changed.

62_IFB_Berlinale_Perspektive_Deutsches_Kino_ 2012

Director's Statement

Since I started working on REPORTED MISSING, a wave of protest of the young against the establishment began gaining ground that had been unforeseen in its magnitude. The ball bounced from the West to the Middle East and back – from Paris, Athens and Thessaloniki to Teherna, Tunis, Algier and Kairo and from there to Madrid, Tel Aviv and New York. And yet it‘s already starting to feel as if the dynamic is slowly losing speed. At least in the Western world it seems hard to find an alter¬native solution worth fighting for. And yet, the feeling seems to prevail that »something« isn't right: We‘re living in a society that has dedicated itself to the young but at the same time makes it harder than ever for young people to assert themselves; An economy that is dancing around the golden calf without realizing that there are two stone shards of broken values lying at its feet. What if, as a reaction to all of this, kids just decided to disappear, to just leave all the old ones back to deal with their troubles? If, like in the legend of the Rat Catcher, all that remained of the children was the distant sound of laughter being carried across the other side of the mountains by the Eastern winds ?

The youth movement that I describe is like a bunch of flying sparks: One child disappears, then another one, and another one until finally all of the sparks come together in a prairie fire. In a way, my film is a fictional reflection of an already existing reality. What's so unsettling about it is the unsettling demographic development. Even if we all started bringing three or four kids into this world, it would take more than two generations to adjust the demographic imbalance in Germany. And we're not going to bring three or four kids into this world. So much for that apocalyptic aspect.

Dwindling youngsters are, in this sense, not an enigma but a real problem. The children in the film only accelerate this development. They're not zombies, they're not infected by some sort of virus, and they haven't mutated into monsters. The threat they pose lies in their withdrawal from a society that needs them. That's why there are vigilante groups, to protect the status quo. The present is protected to save the future. The world as we know it has left its best days behind.

This perspective is as pessimistic as it is optimistic. A film doesn't need to commit to one or the other. It can provide food for thought. But even though my protagonist Lothar, played by André M. Hennike, is left behind without being able to join the children, hope remains for him. By going on this manic search for his daughter, whom he thinks he might lose forever, by buying into the children's movement like a conspiracy theorist and following their road into disappearance, he becomes attached to his life again – through his encounter with the children. That right there is something of a revolution.

 

Interview about REPORTED MISSING by Joya Thome with Jan Speckenbach:

Where did the original idea for the film come from?

I was talking to my mother one day somewhere out in the countryside about life as a retiree. She grew up during Germany‘s »economic miracle«. Unemployment was never an issue for my parents. Today, the middle class is seriously worrying about social descent and the drift into the so-called »precarity«. It was in this context that my mother started to wonder why young people aren‘t standing up to the older generations nowadays. That thought immediately fascinated me: First, there was the science-fiction element of it. Then, there was the paradox of a battle between generations instead of classes. I then let a private and individual issue flow into it: The story of a father – I myself had recently become a father – looking to build a relationship with a daughter that he hadn‘t seen in years. So that was the point of departure: A sociological consideration and the investigation of an individual story of failure.

How did current political events influence the screenplay?

In 2005 there were the Paris riots. The press just sort of agreed that there was no explanation for what was happening. The same thing happened later with Thessaloniki and London, albeit in a weaker form. That just seemed so absurd to me because I felt like the reasons for the uprisings were so obvious. There are more youth uprisings today than in 1968. But there are backlashes, too. Anti-youth sentiments were expressed a couple of years ago during election campaigns in Hesse. Sarkozy suggested cleaning out Parisian banlieues with high pressure cleaners. In Great Britain, movie theaters were running ads against hostility towards children. Italy legalized vigilante patrols and Berlin was discussing similar measures to put an end to car vandalism. These are all symptoms that a democracy isn‘t sure about its values anymore.

How did you get from here to the theme of disappearance?

Keeping all of this in mind, I thought: What happens when our youth-crazy society suddenly loses its foundation? I had been looking at the demographic trend in Germany, which implies a shifting relationship between the generations. I thought to myself, instead of a revolution, wouldn‘t it be even scarier to show what happens if kids just started to disappear? The tale of the Rat Catcher portrays this fear and the children‘s crusades in the 13th century must have been such an experience. The fear for our children is archaic because it implies that we haven‘t fulfilled our responsibilities to protect them. This fear of loss interested me both in the collective and private fields. But I also wanted to show the radicality of disappearing and discarding your personal history, a radicalism that, unlike a revolution, does not try to rebuild anything. I am attracted by that extreme, anarchical claim for freedom that you have when you just disappear from one day to the next. Everyone might have had the idea as a child that was mad at its parents. The tale of »Little Hans« is a classic example. The act of disappearing is a selfish act. Not everything is our parents‘ fault. It was important to me to remain impartial here. And that worked very well with Lothar‘s character.

What was it like to shoot with so many children?

People always say that it‘s so hard to shoot with kids, but I don‘t share that opinion. It‘s the grown-ups that cause trouble, not the kids. The kids – they were just themselves! But there were a lot of them and they had something of a force of nature. The craziest part was that they took everything unconditionally seriously. Adult extras and even many actors try to imitate something when they‘re in a scene. They try to imagine how they would act in a certain situation. But these kids weren‘t trying to fake anything.

What was it like working with André M. Hennicke?

André M. Hennicke was wonderful to work with. He‘s known for very different roles, but I had already seen him in two movies (MITTE ENDE AUGUST and DIE AUFLEHNUNG) that already showed a different aspect of his acting. So I thought that this might be even more interesting with him. We rehearsed together once and immediately realized that he had to take the part. We were able to communicate using very little words, sometimes just the wink of an eye was enough. That was a very nice experience.

Why did you choose Luzie Ahrens for the role of Lou?

Melanie Rohde and I had originally written the role for a boy. I thought if it was a girl, she could easily end up as a sort of surrogate daughter. I wanted a more competitive relationship. But then I watched the short film JESSI at the Berlinale – at the section Perspektive Deutsches Kino, by the way. Jenny Lou Ziegel, who did the camerawork for REPORTED MISSING, had been the cinematographer for JESSI as well and had told me about Luzie. I saw the film and thought right away that it would be amazing if she played Lukas. For one thing, Luzie somehow has this androgynous appeal. There was no risk that Lothar would develop a simple father-daughter relationship with her. So I rewrote the part for a girl. Luzie has this mystery written across her face. I think it would have been wrong to try to solve that mystery. Her face reminds me of David Bennent playing Oskar Matzerath in The Tin Drum: Those large eyes of hers, something is glimmering up there. Of course I liked the idea of referring to someone like Oscar – who doesn‘t want to grow up - through this choice of a cast member.

How does Lothar find his identity?

Everyone needs a personal history to become human in a way. Lothar tries to avoid that; he‘s sentenced himself to a sort of self-amnesia and tries to live without a personal story. And it works out fine in the beginning: He has a good job, a sympathetic wife. He‘s entirely naïve in thinking that erasing your old life can be that simple. When his ex-wife Silvia calls and tells him that their daughter has gone missing, his entire make-believe world collapses. Losing his lost daughter paradoxically leads to Lothar‘s affirmation of his role as a father. In other words: He begins to accept his history. That‘s where I see the awakening of his personality: The ending might be sad and almost disappointing, but nonetheless, Lothar has won a history. He might be a sad human being, but he will be human at last. He is able to let his daughter go even though he had only just found her. Maybe he had to go through all this so he could actively let her go, whereas before he had passively stood by while she was taken from him.

Why does Lothar work in a nuclear power plant? How did you choose the shooting locations?

Nuclear power with its long half-life asserts and, at the same time, denies the historicity of human action. It embraces a lack of responsibility towards future generations, a thought that has finally become socially accepted in Germany since Fukushima. This technology already carries the generational conflict inside of it. I wanted a landscape that showed both nature and technology. And I wanted the film to take place in the densely populated Western part of Germany because I feel like it fell into oblivion after the reunification. Little attention has been paid to the area‘s social problems. Youth migration isn‘t just an East German problem.
The interplay between a potential future, a probable past and a transitional present has lost its stability. By leaving society, the kids are disrupting their own history and the history of the society they‘re fleeing from. Without kids, society is left without a future. The theme of history is everywhere, in the cities, on the countryside and in the characters. Amnesia and suppression aren‘t conditions but hard work. We Germans know that in particular.
A FILM BY JAN SPECKENBACH

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