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BERLINALE 2023 Berlinale Special

Lars Kraume • Director of Measures of Men

“Throughout history, cinema has made most of its money from the exploitation of violence”


- BERLINALE 2023: The German director homes in on modern ethnological standards and why his fellow countrymen need to be reminded of their role in colonialism

Lars Kraume  • Director of Measures of Men
(© Anatol Kotte)

Dealing with Germany’s colonial past in South West Africa, Lars Kraume unmasks the problematic ethics of outdated science and the genocide that happened in the wake of such an approach. His movie Measures of Men [+see also:
film review
interview: Lars Kraume
film profile
follows a young scientist from Berlin to modern-day Namibia and does not hold back when it comes to showing the atrocities in all their horror. The movie was aired recently as a Berlinale Special screening.

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Cineuropa: Are Germans aware that they have a colonial past?
Lars Kraume: Germans think that they have nothing to do with colonialism. That's because they had to give up all their colonies in 1919 after losing World War I. After 1945, during the great freedom fights in Vietnam or Algeria, they always acted as if they played no part in this. Naturally, over the last 70 years, they have mainly dealt with the guilt of World War II and the Holocaust. But Germany was once the third-largest colonial power in the world.

The film is not so much about classical imperialism, but more about science. In the past, science has always been absolved, but now we are examining it more critically.
This critical view of the history of ethnology has only come into play in recent years. Emmanuel Macron, for example, made the restitution of African looted art a topic in his election campaign, and ethnological collections have had to talk about their stolen artefacts and art treasures in a completely different way for the first time. There are still human remains in the museums and archives today that have not yet been properly buried.

Your characters are rooted in their historical environment, meaning that you don't try to impose modern views on them. The protagonist, Alexander Hoffmann, is not wilfully evil, but was rather brought up amidst this school of thought.
I didn't want us as filmmakers to be at the forefront. We tell our story within the parameters of the time period. That is, for example, why we also use racist words. But we tried to keep that to a minimum as much as possible so that the characters wouldn’t use the N word all the time.

Hoffmann also steals from the dead. He takes toys and jewellery that will probably disappear into the archives 100 years later, because you can't exhibit them and you don't have any sources about their original purpose.
The distributors wanted me to cut some of these recurring scenes out due to the long running time. I said the film needed them so that the viewer could have exactly this epiphany. He steals from dead people and drags everything to Europe. I didn't make the skull-stealing in the desert up either. There's a letter from Felix von Luschan, the professor who served as a model for Peter Simonischek's character, who writes to the officers in Namibia and says that if the local population is dying of thirst anyway, they might as well send a few skulls to Germany.

When depicting genocide on film, the problem always arises that the victims become a nameless, suffering multitude in the background and that the story is told from the perspective of the perpetrators.
Technically, the voice of the victims in this story should be louder than that of the perpetrators. But as a white German, I am not entitled to tell the stories of the Herero or the Nama, because that would be cultural appropriation. I have to tell it from the perpetrator's perspective. Throughout history, cinema has made most of its money from the exploitation of violence. If you tell the story from the victim's perspective, you create these images of violence, and we didn't want that. I hope that one day, Herero and Nama directors will be able to make films from their point of view and, in the process of that, will find the right tone and vocabulary for these stories.

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