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In the aisles

Love in a wholesale market microcosm: silent Christian starts a new job in the warehouse. His colleague Bruno shows him how to drive a forklift. Marion seems to like him, but she‘s married.

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It‘s easy to google and find out whether Miltitz really exists or not. The name is the last station of a night bus in the film. “A district in Leipzig“ is what Wikipedia spits out and sets Thomas Stubers film IN DEN GÄNGEN, which isn‘t interested in social realism, in a concrete place in Germany. And lo and behold: Stuber himself comes from Leipzig, doesn‘t need to google it, and has turned a short story by Leipzig-raised Clemens Meyer into a feature film that premiered in competition at this year‘s Berlinale.

These comparisons with reality seem useful because IN DEN GÄNGEN comes off a bit like a fairy tale in the beginning and it takes some time for the characters working in the gigantic supermarket to leave the place. They go to their small apartments or bigger houses in the area with the bus, a bicycle, or a car. But first we stay in the world of canned food, sweets, animal food, detergents, delicacies, and frozen food – a world where camaraderie matters, the forklift operators have small conflicts, and the responsibilities and departments are clear.

Cinematographer Peter Matjasko finds big images for the small clerks and gives the universe of wage labor an air of majesty by doing so. Between all the product management, sorting, and machine hydraulics, the focus lies on a tapestry of longing for distant paradises while the customers are in the background. There‘s classical music in the supermarket at night, and otherwise there‘s a murmur on the audo track in a world that only has artificial light and no daytime. The films of Andreas Dresen and his forced naturalistic gaze on the East couldn‘t be further away from this.

Three figures make up the plot and three of the most interesting actors in contemporary German cinema are cast in the roles. Christian (Franz Rogowski) is the narrator of the film. His perspective on Marion (Sandra Hüller) is also the film‘s perspective. We find out a bit about the story of his trial period in the market later on. His reticence, martial tattoos over his entire body, and the first crash into a bar suggest a backstory that had Christian going downhill. Marion, his love interest, is bold and flirty at first. Later the mood changes just like her presence in the supermarket, and we learn that she‘s married. Then there‘s Bruno (Peter Kurth), a good colleague that shows Christian the ropes and makes the film into a clear East German post-reunification story at the end.


It‘s nice that Thomas Stuber doesn‘t make the East German working-class, who are toeing the line between the lower middle-class and a lack of perspective, pitiable. Instead, an inflated, sometimes reduced and not final image of people crystalizes whose reference system is endless consumerism, or rather, organizing that system. Some kitschiness is allowed, since Clemens Meyer‘s social study is based on people he knew and the film finds its way to show East German reality in a quiet way without clear accusations which hasn‘t been seen in a German film before.


There‘s a thing you can take issue with to be sure, like whether you buy Sandra Hüller as a supermarket employee, or whether the images of capitalism are too romantic in their set-up. But the fact that IN DEN GÄNGEN manages not to pander and finds a way to captivate for 2 hours is indisputable. Just like the existence of Miltitz, a district in Leipzig.

Toby Ashraf

Translation: Elinor Lewy

Credits

Original title: In den Gängen
Deutschland 2018, 125 min
Genre: Drama
Director: Thomas Stuber
Author: Clemens Meyer, Thomas Stuber
DOP: Peter Matjasko
Montage: Kaya Inan
Distributor: Zorro
Cast: Franz Rogowski, Sandra Hüller, Peter Kurth, Andreas Leupold
Release: 24.05.2018

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