Christiane F.
By: Michelle R. on October 2, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Umbrella Entertainment (Australia). All Regions, PAL. 4:3. German DD 5.1. English Subtitles. 135 minutes
The Movie
Director: Uli Edel
Starring: Natja Brunckhorst, Thomas Haustein, Jens Kuphal, Reiner Wolk, Kerstin Richter
Screenplay: Herman Weigel
Music: Jurgen Knieper, David Bowie
Country: Germany
AKA: Christiane F. - Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo; We Children from Bahnhof Zoo
German director Uli Edel (Last Exit to Brooklyn, Body of Evidence) made his startling cinematic debut in 1981 with Christiane F., the harrowing true story of a young girl who became part of Berlin's drug scene at age 13, and by 14, a heroin addict and prostitute. The movie is based on a book adapted from many hours of recorded conversation with Christiane Felscherinow (Christiane F.: We Children from Bahnhof Zoo), which upon its release in 1978, instantly became a European bestseller, soon appearing in English-speaking countries under the title H – The Autobiography of a Child Prostitute and Heroin Addict.

The film begins with Christiane (Natja Brunckhorst), a strikingly pretty teenager, wandering down the corridor of a dismal high-rise apartment building, where she lives with her divorced mother and younger sister Sabine. Lonely, bored and alienated, she decides to go along with a schoolfriend to Sound, a nightclub that has recently opened in the city. Here Christiane finds a sense of belonging and freedom which her life has been so far devoid of. Drugs are commonplace in her new environment, and wanting to fit in with her new group of friends, she begins to take LSD and valium.

Christiane becomes even more disconnected from her home life when Sabine moves out to live with their father, and her mother is spending more time at work and with her partner Klaus, whom Christiane dislikes. She visits Sound frequently, where she meets her new boyfriend Detlef, a heroin addict. Wanting to keep up with him, she begins snorting the narcotic, then, on her 14th birthday, starts shooting up. Christiane discovers that Detlef is forced to finance his habit by hustling at Bahnhof Zoo station, an infamous meeting place for dealers, streetwalkers and kerb-crawlers. Soon hooked on heroin, Christiane has no choice herself but to join his seedy world of prostitution, signaling the beginning of a shocking downward spiral…

Christiane F. is an incredibly powerful, disturbing movie. The fact that it is based on real-life events makes it all the more unforgettable. It is also one of the most unremittingly grim portraits of drug addiction ever filmed. Edel spares us nothing in his close-ups of bruised veins, blunt needles, vomit and squalor and dirty syringes plunging into necks and arms. His strong use of drab, washed out colours, adds to the feeling of despair and hopelessness. To add to the realism, some shots of young addicts gathered at the Bahnhof Zoo station were filmed with a hidden camera, and are almost indistinguishable from those parts of the story that are staged. For his actors, Edel enlisted mostly nonprofessionals: "The cast was so natural you'd think they had been either actors or junkies all their lives. The fact is that not one of them had any stage experience whatsoever and only one had ever had any experience with heroin." In light of that, the verisimilitude he achieves is remarkable. Thanks to the authenticity of his players, Edel is able to simulate the world of Berlin's teenage street addicts, circa mid 1970s, in sharply convincing detail. The actors also bear a strong resemblance to the real-life characters they are portraying. The then 14-year-old Natja Brunckhorst's performance in particular, is phenomenal.

Upon its release, Christiane F. became the highest-grossing film in German cinema history, stunning Cannes Festival audiences and appearing on many 'Top Ten Foreign Film' lists. It naturally caused controversy amongst Australian censors, sparking a debate over whether the movie should have received an M rating, so children could see it as a warning against drugs, or an R rating, in case the film was seen as an incitement to take drugs. It was eventually released with an R rating in 1982.
Anyone familiar with the Roadshow VHS release will be pleased to know that the DVD transfer of Christiane F. is a nice clear (full frame) transfer – as opposed to the grainy, murky, dark video print that fans of the film have had to put up with for years.
Again we have a vast improvement from the clumsily dubbed Roadshow travesty – the audio track is in German Dolby 5.1 with English subtitles! It's also a treat to hear David Bowie's superlative soundtrack perfectly mixed and providing a poignant background to the tragic onscreen action.
Extra Features
Original lobby card gallery and trailers for other Umbrella releases.
The Verdict
Often difficult to watch because the images are so powerful, the horrors so strong and the performances so realistic, Christiane F. is an uncompromising, living nightmare of a young girl's descent into the drug scene of 1970's Berlin. In lesser hands the movie could have been a trainwreck of sleazy exploitation (a la Rino De Silvestro's 1984 cash-in Hanna D: The Girl from Vondel Park), however Edel's outstanding direction has resulted in a hard-hitting masterpiece.
Movie Score
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