This Ain't California
Directed by Marten Persiel
Following a cohort of young rebels who envisioned the buckled-down GDR, with its “world of concrete,” as one giant skate park, this German film is a nostalgia trip that dips into an enormous trove of punk home-movie material—or at least purports to. Structured as a straight-ahead old-crew reminiscence doc, but evasively described by the press notes as a “hybrid documentary,” the festival-hit sparked some controversy when it came to light that it was a hired actor (model and pro skater Kai Hillebrand) starring in that allegedly pre-Jackass, pre-YouTube Super 8. “As far as feedback from the skaters from the East goes, we did justice to their story,” director Persiel has said, defending his approach while choosing to refrain from any true-or-false specifics.
This Ain’t California might have the genre police up in arms—part of the point, certainly, for a film that memorializes a youthful dispensing with the rulebook—but the narrative on its own rides too smoothly to excite any protest. After a funeral for supreme daredevil Denis “Panik” Paraceck, close friends gather for an around-the-bonfire reunion; the film takes its cues from their remembrances, including much basic analysis of the personality of central mystery Panik (“ego-aggro bullshit” meets private reflection). Traced through the 80s, the between-friends drama feels rather slack, while certain one-off visuals retain an adrenalized charge: a preserved-on-film stunt involves the lower banks of Alexanderplatz’s TV tower and an on-board handstand; a quick-cut late montage charts the aftermath 90s in terms of evolving skate-game graphics.
While it might eventually invite you to question its judgment as “nonfiction”—an animated sequence near the end depicts unlikely enlistee Denis’s final surrender to enemy fire in Afghanistan—the film is nonetheless appealingly locked in for its charting of anarchic energies. A single overheard line speaks volumes about how borderless youthful defiance begat accidental politics behind the Iron Curtain, where the free-style ethos ran right over deadly serious Olympic-sport aspirations and the prevailing climate of mutual suspicion: “I ollied the Berlin Wall.”
Opens April 12