A family with a 15-year-old daughter goes through enough strife and tension under normal circumstances. The one portrayed in The State I Am In not only has to contend with a moody girl who's suffering her first love, but with the constant fear that the law will one day find them. Yes, many of us may have thought our childhoods were lousy, but few can top being the offspring of wanted terrorists.
Jeanne (Julia Hummer) flees with her parents (Barbara Auer and Richy Müller) to one small, quiet vacation town after another. never talking to other kids and always suspicious of a conversation. While the film never explicitly states it, it can be inferred that they were members of the RAF in late 1960s Germany, and are wanted for violent acts against the state. In the film's opening scene, a young fellow named Heinrich (Bilge Bingül) introduces himself to Jeanne, and discovers how awkward she is at basic human interaction.
While it has political subtext, The State I Am In is not a political film, but one about people in a difficult situation, struggling to survive and be together. German writer/director Christian Petzold proves himself an astute observer of both the mind and feelings of a teenager and the fears faced while on the run from the law. We see the way Jeanne's yearnings to be a normal girl conflict with her love for her family.
Jeanne and her parents live in a constant state of paranoia, sometimes founded and sometimes constructed out of their greatest fears. They constantly check their surroundings, never 100-percent focused on their lives. Petzold takes advantage of this dynamic, playing with the family's and the audience's expectations in several scenes, the most memorable of which plays out in a sparse intersection. We sense the fear and trials that gnaw away at this family and their psyche.
The film is presented in a 16x9 anamorphic transfer, pillarboxed to preserve its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. While the muted colors are accurate and appear accurate to the director's intent, there are several jaggies while watching on a progressive display, as well as ghosting from what appears to have originated as a PAL transfer.
All the previously minor problems come to a head in a key scene during the film (about 1:40 in), in which a compression problem turns the picture into a blur of blocks every few frames. It's a key scene between two characters, and not one in which you want your eye to be twitching. I have no idea how this problem wasn't caught. I wasn't able to test it on an interlaced display, but it showed up on multiple progressive displays with different players, and was clearly visible on frame-by-frame examination.
Here are two frames, one good and one bad, from the scene in question:
Presented in its original German with 5.1 and stereo mixes, the film's sound design uses natural sound and minimal score to excellent effect. Optional English subtitles (as well as subtitles of the audio commentary) are also included.
The DVD features a good hour and 50 minutes of extras, most of which consist of director Christian Petzold and actress Barbara Auer talking. There's plenty of enlightening material, although I can't help but think that some contextual information on the RAF would have been helpful, especially for U.S. audiences. Petzold and Auer mention that young Germans aren't that familiar with the history, so you can imagine how uniformed young Americans are.
The centerpiece of the special features is an audio commentary with director Christian Petzold and actress Barbara Auer, recorded in German and subtitled in English. While it can be a bit repetive and a little too much time is spent explaining scenes, it contains some fascinating discussions of the acting process and the dynamics between the film's three stars. For example, Petzold says he intentionally shot the film in a partly reversed order so as to make the family grow apart when arranged in sequence.
The 38-minute interview with Petzold and Auer contains some interesting discussion not included in the commentary, but could have been trimmed down a bit. I wouldn't recommend watching both in one sitting.
The Film stills gallery is a six-minute video slideshow of various low-quality, 4x3 stills from the film. After starting with an awkward menu-to-feature transition, it plays through fine, but has no notable content. The images are blocky, with an abundance of artifacts and noise. The minute-long Set photo gallery is of equally poor-quality images, but is perhaps worth more of a look due to the behind-the-scenes nature of the photos. While fast-forwarding is disabled, you can speed through the photos with the skip button.
The Christian Petzold filmography features your usual three-paragraph bio and list of work.
The film's original theatrical trailer sits alongside trailers for two of Petzold's other films, Yella and Jerichow. Each employs nice editing of compelling footage that may inspire you to watch their respective film. The first two are shown in letterboxed in a 4x3 frame, while the last is anamorphic. (But the picture quality isn't great on any of them.)
Nearly a decade after its original release, the The State I Am In proved itself worth the wait. Sadly, a lack of adequate quality control mars the release severely. Nevertheless, the quality of the film and extras definitely make it worth checking out, whether through a rental or a purchase.
Jeremy Mathews has been subjecting films to his criticism since 2000. He has contributed to several publications, including Film Threat, Salt Lake City Weekly, the Salt Lake Tribune, In Utah This Week and The Wasatch Journal. He also runs the blog The Same Dame and fronts the band NSPS.