Der wilde Wald

99% of land in Europe is used and abused by humans. This is a film about the remaining 1%, and in particular the Bayerische Wald in South-East Germany, near the Czech border. It opened in 1970 and is now the oldest national park in Germany. Together with the neighbouring lands, it is the largest forest reserve in Mitteleuropa.

We listen to various people, philosophers, environmentalists and photographers, who explain why we need to preserve parks like the Bayerische Wald. And we are provided with plenty of photographic evidence. The breadth of nature, the number of species which would otherwise die out, provide a compelling argument for the importance of such areas.

Photographer Bastian Kalous is filmed walking through the park, rucksack on his back. He explains how important it is to him, and no-one should take it away from him. But this is part of the problem of the film. We hear lots about why largely middle class individuals would like to maintain such places for their own pleasure, but too little about what’s in it for the rest of us.

More important perhaps, we are told more than once that these areas are under threat, but never really hear about who is posing this threat. And what can we do about it. Is it climate change, which is mentioned in terms of the potential damage that it can wreak, but less so about what we could do about it? Similarly, if there is a problem from rampant expansionist capitalism, then we are left to infer this without any concrete examples.

The case for the defence lies much more in different people saying, “it’s great here, it shouldn’t change.” But who is threatening change? And what can we do to stop it? This is not really mentioned. For the film makers it is enough to point to Nature as something that is intrinsically better than whatever human beings are doing to thwart its progress.

Various questions remain unanswered. The film is ultimately a plea for why the Bayerische Wald is great, but says less about nature as a whole. One logical consequence could be that everyone who sees the film storms down to Bavaria in their SUV to experience a little bit of Nature. Then storms back home, however far that is, with the smug feeling that they have done something good for the environment.

Or it may have a quite differentmessage, but this is part of the problem. What is Der wilde Wald fighting for? That “we” respect the environment a little more? Great, I’m all for that, but who are “we”? Blandly saying that humanity must respect the environment more is just a cop out from identifying just who are the real people contributing to the serious problems.

I have some friends who will love this film, and I will recommend it to them wholeheartedly. There are many, many scenes which show nature in all its beauty – lynxes, wolves, fungus. If you are after a David Attenborough type film about how great the natural world is, then this is something for you. There are some breathtaking scenes from which we should appreciate what a wonderful world we live in.

And yet the film aspires to more. It wants to assign guilt, though it is very mealy mouthed about naming names. So it simultaneously encourages its audience to feel horribly guilty without offering any serious advice on what anyone can actually do. There’s a decent argument that no film should be expected to do this, but for this particular film, what is the point otherwise?

The parts of the film which shows animals and plants doing cute animal and plant things are great – although, admittedly, it would be difficult to fill 90 minutes of filming time with these shots. The rest is equally important – yes it’s great that we have places like Bayerische Wald, but what do you want us to do about it? If the film is a plea to defend the Wald against attempts to destroy it through gentrification, we need more information about specifically what is threatened.

More likely, the appeal is more abstract: Nature is good, human beings less so. Now, I’m not exactly happy with this fotmulation – the problem lies in capitalism and not the many people who’d love to spend their time rambling in the woods if they were allowed the time. But even if we accept the claim at face value, well what are we supposed to do?

Der wilde Wald offers a beautiful picture of a world that is not thoroughly corrupted by insurgent capitalism, and is to be welcomed on that level. But it would have been a whole lot better if it could suggest exactly how we should process this information.

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