Christiane F. (1982)
we can be heros
Christiane F. (1982)

Heroin – so cool it makes you smell of shit & rob your loved ones for your next hit. The Sun doesn’t care if you develop a habit as a result of their over exposure of Peter’s lifestyle. It’s not their fault if you fancy a walk down Brown Avenue with Mr Ed The Talking Horse as a result of buying a Babyshambles record & eating your chips out of yesterday’s papers – is it?

Heroin has never really been that big or that clever. Tyler Durden knows this all too well. He’s got a little secret for ya:

Director – Uli Edel:

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Genre - Drama:
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Urban Drama:
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Coming-of-Age:
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Themes – Kids in trouble/Drug Addiction

Cast

Natja Brunckhorst – Christiane

Thomas Haustein – Detlev

Featuring - David Bowie

My memory of this seminal 1982 film, which centres upon the life of a teenage heroin addict, has never lost its initial impact in over 20 years. It was also one of the first things I thought about whilst following the, very public, trials and tribulations of ex-Libertine, Pete Doherty. It, therefore, seemed worthwhile re-viewing Christiane F. to see if any lessons could be learned by comparing the idolisation and adulation of the original Thin White Duke, with what appears to be the formulation of a new incarnation. I’m sure his fans would benefit from a screening of this film in order to see the descent that Christiane (played by Natja Brunckhorst) experiences as she at first idolises then, becoming so dependent upon heroin, cares little about her hero, David Bowie, in this graphic urban drama. Based upon Christiane Felscherinow’s real life experiences, the film charts this young girls’ descent into heroin addiction and teenage prostitution with a Low/Heroes era Bowie soundtrack, ideally reflecting a depiction of heroin addiction in late 70’s Berlin.

Cinematically Christiane F. now resembles a number of The Streets recent urban video dramas in style (nothing is ever truly original). Although this film does not pull any punches in its portrayal of these misguided youths, who see the epitome of cool as to the level of drugs that can be consumed. At first Christiane cares little for this sort of peer group pressure, preferring to listen to Bowie and hang out at Sound disco and the empty shopping malls of late night Berlin. One of the earliest scenes shows a more innocent Christiane, and her group of soon to become addicts, running through Berlins’ malls in a more carefree manner to Bowies’ iconoclastic Heroes. Sure, Valium is her drug of choice at the tender age of 13 but one thing this film never does is judge its characters. It contains little adult intervention or any clear authoritative voice (apart from Christiane’s own, infrequent, voiceover), preferring to document the facts and events as they occurred. It is neither a Trainspotting or La Haine, however, but it could be said to be closer to Larry Clarke’s Kids in its tone.


Christianes’ fate, already scarred by the break up of her family, finally becomes sealed when the love of her life, Detlev (Thomas Haustein), rejects her in favour of a new love, heroin. After attending a Bowie concert in Berlin (featuring a performance of ‘Station to Station’), where she discovers that she is now the only one of her friends that is not doing ‘H’, a heartbroken Christiane, already filled with Mandrax and desperate to fit in with the group, eventually succumbs. She’ll only snort though, whilst her older male pals graphically shoot-up in a car, and even that’s enough to induce vomiting immediately!

Initially this change of heart reprises Detlev’s affections, but it isn’t until her 14th birthday that she discovers just how much lower she’ll sink. Already looking older than her years, Christiane discovers that Detlev and his pals now turn tricks to fund their habits, when she is introduced to Zoo Station. The daytime footage here is a stark contrast from the more glamorous locations previously seen of Berlin nightlife and the upbeat music of Bowie is replaced by the more solemn tones of Warszawa. At this point Christiane takes the final ‘plunge’, borrowing a ‘kit’ off a zombie-like heroin veteran who assists her when she trembles at the last minute. From here on in her cyclical, downward spiral is secured.

Music, no longer a priority in Christianes’ life, is now replaced by a need for heroin and, now hooked, begging and finally prostitution is resorted to, to relieve her ‘sweats’. Be warned, this does not make good Sunday afternoon viewing! As the teenage couple argue, lie and make promises to ‘withdraw’ you get the feeling that naivety is her biggest flaw (believing that shared experience can somehow save him) and you wish for some form of intervention. It eventually comes by way of a near fatal, pre-school ‘hit’. The parental intervention results in a co-‘withdrawal’ for Christiane and Detlev, viewed from only their point of view however. It is a more harrowing and graphic portrayal than shown in Trainspotting, with prolonged and lingering shots of sweating, cramps, aches, blood and projectile vomiting.

Once clean the couple return to Zoo Station, and their addict friends, only to be lured into the ‘just one last hit’ trap of so many other stories. Turning tricks now becomes a way of life for the increasingly emaciated and filthy Christiane, who even sells her beloved Bowie albums and steals from her mother to buy more smack. Even finding their old friend, Axel, dead cannot deter the couple from their doomed predicament. But, in one of the most startling scenes in the film, the veteran addict who had first assisted Christiane’s introduction to ‘the needle’ returns to steal her fix. In a grubby Berlin toilet he dramatically plunges the needle into his own neck as a gob-smacked OAP watches. The symbolism here could not be lost on anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of such an extreme addiction and is one of the most extreme sequences within the film. More lies and revelations later (about the true nature of Detlevs’ gay lover) and Christiane sinks lower than even she thought possible, flagellating a dirty and overweight sexual pervert to pay for another fix. The film, and Christianes’ addiction, concludes with the news of the death of another friend, Babsie (14 years old), reducing her to take, what appears to be, a fatal OD. Christiane, however, finally retells her tale of full withdrawal in a final voiceover epilogue after being relocated to Hamburg.

Based upon a series of articles first published in the German Stern magazine, which later became a popular book, this morality tale should not be lost on any young people who idolise certain ‘stars’ and revere them for their behaviour. As Christiane slowly withers away from teenage music loving beauty to an emaciated, walking corpse, the films message is clear. As I’ve said, it never judges, preferring to present the viewer with a document of lived events. Christiane is never condemned for what she does or the choices that she makes, but, just from retelling her story, the reality of her situation is revealed and should be taken, without meaning to sound preachy, as a stark and startling lesson.

Both Christiane and Detlev are now clean, alive and still living in Germany.

Kids, you have been warned!!!!

Tyler Durden – tMx 18 – 02/05


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