Director: Sandra Prechtel (Germany). Year of Release: 2022
Kim Seligsohn’s family have led extraordinary lives. Kim’s grandmother Marianne was deported to Auschwitz when her own daughter, Kim’s mother Lore, was just 6 years old. Lore was hidden in an attic and survived. The grown up Lore became a political activist – we see a photo of her on a demo carrying an anti-war sign, and passionately supported the “anti-Fascist defence wall” that was built in East Germany. She also married a former member of the Hitler Youth.
On camera, Kim says that she doesn’t know if her parents ever discussed politics, and wonders if they ever talked about her father’s dubious past. Some parts of the film are slightly irritating and inauthentic, and this is one. For Lore appears often inside the film, and speaks quite a lot. If Kim really want to know about her mother’s past, she could just ask her. But most of the conversations which she initiates seem to be orchestrated for the cameras.
Lore had 2 brothers, both of whom left Germany for Australia because, as one said, he “did not want to live in the country which murdered my mother”. One moved to Papua New Guinea, and both had families. We watch a reunion scene between Kim and her cousins where all talk in their different ways of living with absent fathers. It is implied that following their experiences in Nazi Germany, Lore’s brothers were too traumatised to behave as functioning fathers-
The film often introduces subjects which might interest or appal us, before quickly moving on to something else entirely. In the middle of the film, and seemingly out of nowhere, Kim talks about being sexually abused as a young girl. She was going to ballet lessons, then suddenly, at 13, she was not a virgin any more. She does not elaborate, nor do I want her to, but within 2 minutes, she is talking about her time as a singer for a Neue Deutsche Welle band.
It is maybe too much to say this trivialises rape, but you do wonder why it is brought up at all. Rape is a serious subject, and you’d have thought that a film which seems preoccupied with talking about personal trauma would be more interested about the effect of this horrifying event on a very young girl. But the editorial attitude of not explicitly asking any questions means that we hear a load of information for which we receive little explanation and can therefore barely process.
Liebe Angst comes over as a therapeutic attempt to help Kim and Lore (but in particular, Kim) come to terms with their own horrifying experiences. If this is the case, you do wonder which role the audience is expected to play. It feels like we are being asked to be complicit in something which is none of our business. Therapy can provide great succour to people who are trying to deal with their own traumas. I’m not sure that it should be offered as public entertainment.
In 1986. Kim’s brother Tom attempted suicide, and 12 years later, he successfully killed himself. He left behind some books of troubling sketches and a note saying that he was ashamed to be part of a murderous race. Lore’s reaction was to refuse to think about a second tragedy in her life. This doesn’t satisfy Kim who wanted to openly grieve her lost brother. Both approaches are entirely legitimate, but when Kim uses the cameras to order Lore to read about Tom, it feels like bullying.
Such scenes do not function well as entertainment – we are intruding on private grief. Just as Kim seems slightly inauthentic when talking about lacking knowledge of her mother’s life, here she feels manipulative, staging scenes which urge us to take a side. While it might be interesting to know how Lore reacted and continues to react to her son’s suicide, this is a private matter, and I felt uncomfortable being asked to be a part of it.
Lore chronicles her life with index cards – she sees it as her duty as a response to the small amount of reparations paid to her by the City of Bremen. And yet outside this detailed recording of her life, Lore embraces chaos. Her house is full of tons of stuff, lying around in piles as they should do. At one point, Kim – talking to the cameras as usual – tells her that this must be the first time that she’s visited her mother’s house when everything is clean and tidied away.
The film feels like it is driven by Kim, who is credited of co-author. Above all, it seems to be a declaration of Kim’s resentment that she had such a liberal upbringing with a father who left when he could and a traumatized mother. Kim’s life is now more stable and bourgeois. She is a singer, and we see some scenes of her playing the piano and singing Schubert Lieder. Others show her sing-screaming the names of Holocaust victims as a chamber orchestra plays discordant music.
The story of how the former NDW singer who had never had a music lesson in her life ended up reaching the last 6 of an audition for opera singers would be an interesting one to hear. But as with many of the interesting stories in this film, we are offered a glimpse, but no more. Instead of watching a documentary showing us everything we need to know to draw our own conclusions, I had the feeling that the narrative was being constricted to point us in a very specific direction.
Liebe Angst (translated into English as both Love Fear and Dear Fear, as in the opening line of a letter addressed to Fear) has many stories to tell us, maybe too many. Like some forms of therapy, it takes massive injustices (and you don’t get more massive than the Holocaust) and examines how they effect individual lives. This can help the individual concerned, but is less able to amuse a paying audience. The film is potentially full of interest, but doesn’t quite deliver.