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Mein Bruder heißt Robert und ist ein Idiot

A summer meadow. A tank station. A brother and sister who want to stop time. Conversations about Heidegger. The most contentious competition film at this year‘s Berlinale.


Phillip Gröning‘s film MEIN BRUDER HEISST ROBERT UND IST EIN IDIOT emptied out the seats at festivals. In the Berlinale press screening it was refreshing to see how overwhelmed and annoyed the colleagues who are used to conventional, comforting cinema were when faced with one of the few films that showed the idea of freedom in its very makeup.

MEIN BRUDER HEISST ROBERT UND IST EIN IDIOT doesn‘t tell a story in its over 3 hour running time, there‘s only a slow, but unstoppable escalation. Twins Robert and Elena go to a meadow across a gas station, allegedly in order to study for Elena‘s philosophy final. There are lots of close-ups of grass, ants, feet and other body parts, cigarette packets, potato chip bags, folders, and books. In the background, like Kubrick‘s monolith in snow white, the tower of a windmill looms in the sky. Then Robert begins to talk about Heidegger and Augustinus, phenomenological modern philosophy. Another beer needs to be grabbed from the gas station, where the clerks are called Adolf (pernickety) and Erich (nice and gracious): the Germany metaphor is clearly referenced.

The summer and sensuality, Germany and philosophy, the incest taboo and crimes, these are the motifs in Grönings film. An element of yearning for death is introduced when the twins sink in the deep green water of a forest lake. A bet on who can hold their breath the longest. A cinematic critique of Heidegger and phenomenology is the central reference point of the film. The philosophical discussion in the film is a current one. In the humanities, including film studies, there has been a “phenomenological turn“ in the past few decades. Originating from Tom Gunning‘s and Thomas Elsässer‘s studies of early cinema, it is a theoretical revaluation of the “cinema of attraction“ where the sensual experience of cinema became more highly regarded than the formal structure and narration of a film, which was the focus of criticism in early film theory movements like critical theory and neoformalism.

In Gröning‘s film the “idiot“ Robert explains the philosophical thought processes that lead to a shift in time and the ontology of perception and realization processes. His sister Elena takes his word for it. The real gun which she just shot someone with isn‘t real, she says. As long as both of them perceive it that way, it also works, even if they destroy the world in the process. The fact that Elena, the lazy nerd, will get the best grade on her final is clear. MEIN BRUDER HEISST ROBERT UND IST EIN IDIOT is constructed in a radically sensual way, told in radically free form, and puts its finger on the intellectual wounds. It‘s also about being both incredibly smart and very stupid at the same time. It‘s about making a different kind of film that doesn‘t demand too little of its audience, satisfied with telling them what they think they already know. Many will hate this film, consider it elitist, pretentious, and boring. But those who are open to it can have a lot of fun with Gröning‘s film. You can always still bet on who will leave the cinema first.

Tom Dorow

Translation: Elinor Lewy


Deutschland/Frankreich/Schweiz 2018, 174 min
Genre: Drama
Director: Philip Gröning
Author: Philip Gröning, Sabine Timoteo
DOP: Philip Gröning
Montage: Philip Gröning, Hannes Bruun
Distributor: W-Film
Cast: Josef Mattes, Julia Zange, Urs Jucker, Stefan Konarske
FSK: 16
Release: 22.11.2018




  • OV Original version
  • OmU Original with German subtitles
  • OmeU Original with English subtitles

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