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Ivie wie Ivie

Ivie still lives in Leipzig where she grew up. She still hangs around with her schoolfriends Ingo and Anne. Ingo is struggling to make some profit out of make his dad’s old tanning studio. Anne works as a customs officer. She doesn’t have to deport people every day, but it’s still part of the job. Ivie is working in a kindergarten but trying to get a job teaching 12 year olds in a posh Waldorf school. She gets a lot of interviews but each one is unsuccessful. Could it be because Ivie’s black?

Well, yes, but maybe not in the way that you think. Waldorf schools are scrupulously liberal. So after the initial embarrassing questions (Where are you from? No, where are you really from? Where are your parents from?), the interviewers tell Ivie that she’s just the sort of person they’re looking for, to provide a multicultural education. They don’t ask her anything about her specialist subjects (Maths and Sport, since you ask).

Out of the blue, Ivie gets a visit from Naomi. Naomi lives in Berlin and has a picture of Grace Jones on her wall. She works on the door of one of those trendy clubs where they ask you what you’re there for. If you say, you’re there to dance, they tell you to piss off. Naomi often works double shifts as she has insomnia. It doesn’t matter when she goes to bed – evening or early morning – she always wakes up at 7.50. Her goal is to go to bed at 7.50 so she’ll sleep 24 hours.

On Ivie’s doorstep, Naomi announces that they’re sisters, well half-sisters to be precise. Not only that, their mutual father Amadou has just died in Dakar. Naomi is planning to go to the funeral and meet her relatives. Ivie has had no contact with her dad, and is less sure that she wants to go. It soon turns out that the funeral has already happened, so they’ve missed it anyway.

In Leipzig, the outspoken Naomi notices that the racism she experiences is different to that in Berlin. For example, why do Ingo and Anne insist on calling their old friend Schoko (helpfully subtitled as “brownie”)? Naomi goes walking in the park and is abused then spat at by two white men. The police arrive – eventually – and tell her to calm down or its not going to end happily.

Perhaps a little explanation is necessary. Leipzig is in Sachsen (Saxony), part of East Germany which was plundered for profit and left to rot. More recently it has become one of the main areas of activity of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), the main opposition party in the German parliament, which is currently incubating full-on Nazis. Berlin meanwhile, for all its faults is proud of its multiculturalism.

As both Ivie and Naomi react with delayed grief to the death of a father they never really knew, tension between them grows. Ivie starts to realise that while Amadou apparently cut off all ties with his Leipzig family, he maintained some sort of link with Naomi’s mother in Berlin. Ivie goes through Naomi’s luggage and behaves like a prick at parties. To be fair to her, they’re the sort of party where behaving like a prick is the best survival option.

Ivie wie Ivie isn’t a perfect film. It has a little too much clothes shopping in it for my liking, which is to say that it has clothes shopping in it. And the ending is a little happier than it should be. But these are minor quibbles. The film raises a range of subjects – from everyday racism to friends vs. families to East vs. West Germany without judging. It shows that life is diverse and we are confronted with many decisions, without telling us which decision we should take.

I think the film is at its strongest when attacking apparently neutrality. Anne is shocked when Naomi calls her out for using the word “Schoko”. Of course she isn’t racist – one of her best friends is black. Similarly, its not that the Waldorf schools want to discriminate against black teachers – quite the reverse. But their refusal to recognise the endemic racism in society has them reproducing racist tropes.

All this makes Ivie wie Ivie sound much more worthy and pious than it actually has. It has a real sense of fun, and while the main characters seem to be constantly falling out with each other, they also show genuine love and affection. These are people with whom you’d like to spend time in their country – well, racists and cops excepted.

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