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BERLINALE 2021 Forum

Review: Anamnesis


- BERLINALE 2021: Chris Wright and Stefan Kolbe’s documentary digs deep into the life of an ice-cold woman killer

Review: Anamnesis

Chris Wright and Stefan Kolbe’s Anamnesis [+see also:
interview: Chris Wright and Stefan Kolbe
film profile
- one of the titles taking part to the Forum strand of this year’s Berlinale - is an intense and incredibly puzzling exploration of the life of an ice-cold woman killer, Stefan S., given a false name here as he wishes to remain anonymous. The title hints at the two main processes behind Kolbe and Wright’s work, namely an attempt to recall the events leading to the murder of Stefan’s young colleague Maria M. (another false name), and another to reconstruct his entire psychiatric history. The making of this brave, non-fiction feature started a few years ago, when the two filmmakers met the killer in the therapy ward of Brandeburg Prison. He initially came across as a polite and shy, everyday man. Interestingly, the criminal has taken part in one of Europe’s most progressive rehabilitation programmes for violent criminals and sex offenders, named “Masculinity and Identity.”

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The filmmaking duo begin by exploring in detail the past of this man, who grew up in a troubled family somewhere in East Germany and was affected by several medical conditions from early childhood. Throughout the documentary, the protagonist is a fleeting presence, never entirely visible, perhaps aged somewhere in the region of 45-55 years old. Indeed, the directors find two effective solutions for visually rendering his past and his confession: one is a simple but well balanced voice-over commentary showing images of the real-life – or supposedly real-life – locations where the events took place (a chemical factory, an abandoned school, a quiet residential area, among others); the other sees the part of Stefan S. played by a rather disturbing doll, manipulated in a theatrical space by two female puppeteers, Nadia Ihjeij and Josephine Hock.

This is no casual choice, as puppets are often used in therapy to allow patients to gain distance from their past experiences and to acquire new awareness over their actions. In Anamnesis, however, this solution seems to fuel viewers’ imaginations rather than creating detachment, as some sequences are particularly unsettling – one of them, for instance, sees the puppet/murderer obsessively taking care of his many caged mice. These and other moments are sometimes accompanied by the anguishing notes of Johannes Winde, which are powerfully evocative in highlighting the criminal’s troubled state of mind. Later on, as his release nears and years go by, the focus shifts onto the relationship the two filmmakers develop with the murderer outside of the prison.

The final sequence gives rise to even more questions. How effective can this type of treatment can be? Can psychiatrists really know what was going on inside Stefan S.? What pushed this everyman who dreamt of buying a house and of leading a simple family life to gradually lose touch with reality? And, above all, why did he fall into madness and kill Maria M.? Here, Kolbe and Wright do not take a firm position and even one of the experts proves incapable of giving an answer. Thus, Kolbe and Wright take us on a 111-minute-long maieutic journey to discover the inscrutability of moral evil. And that’s more than enough to make for a great documentary film.

Anamnesis was produced by Filmproduktion in co-production with ZDF/3sat. German outfit Deckert Distribution is handling world sales.

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