Like Volker Schlondorff’s Berlin fest hit “The Legends of Rita,” Christian Petzold’s film debut explores what became of the ’70s generation of German political terrorists. Seen from the point of view of the 15-year-old daughter of a couple in hiding, “The State I Am In” is a modest but potent suspense drama that realistically depicts an off-kilter way of life. Pic should perform well on home turf, and stands a good chance of international exposure, especially via festivals and quality TV screenings.
Jeanne (Julia Hummer) has never known a normal life. She was born while her parents, Clara (Barbara Auer) and Hans (Richy Muller), were living underground after unspecified but presumably lethal acts of terrorism more than 20 years earlier. When the film begins, this tense and disturbed family is hiding in a beachside apartment in an unfashionable part of Portugal; they’re planning their final escape from Europe to Brazil when their plans are disrupted by burglars who steal their money and papers from a baggage locker.
Now forced to return to Germany to obtain funds from their former associates, they wind up in an empty house that Jeanne heard about from Heinrich (Bilge Bingul), a youth she met and to whom she’s attracted. But their old comrades, now living “respectable” lives, aren’t keen to see them, and money stashed away years ago is in outdated currency.
As her parents become more desperate, Jeanne takes every opportunity to behave like a normal teenager; she wants clothes, CDs, friends and a boyfriend, and Heinrich is a willing candidate, though he finds Jeanne’s evasiveness infuriating. A sequence in which she befriends a schoolgirl and joins her for a class screening of Alain Resnais’ holocaust docu “Night and Fog” suggests a link between the activities of her parents and that of Germany’s Nazi past.
Reminiscent of Sidney Lumet’s “Running on Empty” (1988), which also dealt with the problems faced by the children of fugitive parents, Petzold’s intelligent film explores Jeanne’s world with sympathy and fascination. Although pic suffers from an abrupt and somewhat dislocating conclusion, Hummer’s perf anchors the film, and she is well supported by Auer and Muller as the couple who are paying in the present for the misplaced idealism they practiced in the past. Technical credits are slick.