We are Young. We are Strong: racial hatred in the rubble of the Berlin wall
by Vittoria Scarpa
- The second feature by German-Afghan director Burhan Qurbani recounts the xenophobic riot of August 1992 in Rostock, East Germany
On 24 August 1992, three years after the fall of the Berlin wall, the city of Rostock (East Germany) was the scene of an attack by numerous xenophobic and neo-Nazi groups on a building that housed hundreds of immigrant asylum seekers. The event, which sadly went down in history as “the night of the fire”, an expression of the disorder and intolerance of some sectors of the population in a country recently reunified but terribly impoverished, is the focus of the second film by German-Afghan director Burhan Qurbani, whose debut feature, Shahada [+see also:
film profile], was awarded in 2010 at the Berlin Film Festival.
We are Young. We are Strong [+see also:
film profile] made its world premiere at the 9th Rome Film Festival, in the Cinema d’Oggi section. The movie takes place over 24 hours and depicts, in tasteful black and white and with sophisticated camera movements, the hours preceding the bloody clashes of that night, through the eyes of three protagonists: 17-year-old Stefan, one of the leaders of the riot; his father Martin, a local politician divided between ethics and ambition; and Lien, a Vietnamese girl who lives with her family in one of the homes that is set ablaze.
Stefan (Jonas Nay) is part of a cohort of “young and strong men” with no prospects or direction in life, convinced that things were better before and that, by exalting Hitler, they consider foreigners as the enemy that must be destroyed. Politics is powerless and divided, and the petrified face of Martin (Devid Striesow), who, when the riot breaks out, shuts himself inside his house, shows us the confusion of a world in which, paraphrasing Gramsci, the old die while the young are not yet born: the moment, namely, in which “monsters” appear. The monster in this case is a society with an identity crisis that is frustrated by not knowing how to tackle this new development; incapable of recognizing or protecting good-willed people who, like Lien, (Trang Le Hong) seek to rebuild their lives with honest work and, who love Germany almost more than their own homeland. Naturally their love is unrequited.
The atmosphere is tense; the day passes by with everyone knowing that something terrible is about to happen in just a few hours time. And with the dark, alongside the revolt, there’s also an explosion of colour. “I used black and white to place the facts within a historic perspective”, explained the director, “in the last part, when the riot breaks out, colour brings us back to the present, because the event that’s described occurred in a specific place and moment in time, but it could happen anywhere, even today”. The police vanish for two hours and the crowd takes advantage to enter the building and destroy it. “I don’t know what really happened”, admits Qurbani, “that’s why I made the movie”. To look that monster in the face, to know where it’s coming from, and to make sure that it never happens again.
(Translated from Italian)