Christiane F. (film)
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German theatrical release poster
|German||Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo|
|Directed by||Uli Edel|
|Written by||Herman Weigel|
Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo
|Edited by||Jane Seitz|
|Distributed by||Neue Constantin Film|
Christiane F. (German: Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo,  (listen)) is a 1981 German biographical drama film directed by Uli Edel that portrays the descent of Vera Christiane Felscherinow, a bored 13 year-old growing up in mid-1970s West Berlin to 14 year-old heroin-addict. Based on the 1978 non-fiction book Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo (We Children from Zoo Station), transcribed and edited from tape recordings by Kai Hermann and Horst Rieck. The film immediately acquired cult status and features David Bowie as both himself and the soundtrack composer. In 2013, Felscherinow published her autobiography Christiane F. – My Second Life.
13-year-old Christiane Felscherinow lives with her mother, younger sister, and her pet cat in their small apartment in an unkempt multi-storey, concrete social-housing building in a dull neighbourhood on the outskirts of West Berlin. She is tired of living there and is a huge fan of David Bowie. She hears of SOUND, a new trending nightclub in the city's centre. Although she is not old enough to get in, she dresses up in high heels and make up, and asks a popular school friend, Kessi, who goes there regularly, to take her. Kessi also provides her with pills. At the club, she meets a boy named Detlev, who is a little older than she is and is part of a clique where everybody experiments with various types of drugs. The next morning, Christiane and Kessi are waiting for the subway when Kessi's mother sees them and angrily berates Kessi, grabbing her by the arm and telling Christiane to stay away from her daughter.
Christiane starts taking LSD in addition to abusing pills, and befriends a girl her age named Babsi. After a David Bowie concert, Christiane tries heroin for the first time. As she falls in love with Detlev, Christiane begins using heroin on a regular basis in order to be close to him, gradually becoming more and more dependent on the drug until she is a full-blown addict. After her 14th birthday, Christiane stops going home and spends more and more time at her cohorts' unkempt apartment; she is also drawn to Bahnhof Zoo, a large train and subway station notorious for the drug trafficking and prostitution that takes place in its underpasses and back alleys. Christiane also starts to prostitute herself, imitating Detlev, who sells sex favours to male clients on a regular basis in order to support his heroin addiction.
After being discovered unconscious on the bathroom floor at home due to a heroin overdose, Christiane tries going cold turkey with Detlev, an excruciating experience for both of them. However, they both relapse the moment they revisit Bahnhof Zoo. To fuel her addiction, Christiane steals from home, sells all her possessions, and sinks to abysmal levels. One day, Christiane and Detlev find their best friend and roommate, Axel, dead in the apartment from a fatal overdose, due to a bad batch of heroin he was sold on the streets that Detlev believes to be strychnine. Christiane and Detlev quickly run away, ending up at the apartment of one of Detlev's male clients. When Christiane walks in on the two having very loud anal intercourse, she has a breakdown and flees. She returns to the station in order to find Babsi, only to discover that she is dead of an overdose at barely 14 years old, as plastered all over the front pages of many newspapers. In despair over the deaths of numerous friends, as well as her inability to break free from her heroin addiction, Christiane tries to overdose too. The film abruptly breaks to an off-camera voiceover that says eventually Christiane recovered, but most of her cohorts either died or are still addicts, including Detlev, whose whereabouts and current condition are unknown.
- Natja Brunckhorst as Christiane F.
- Thomas Haustein as Detlev
- Jens Kuphal as Axel
- Rainer Wölk as Leiche
- Jan Georg Effler as Bernd
- Christiane Reichelt as Babsi
- Daniela Jaeger as Kessi
- Kerstin Richter as Stella
- David Bowie as himself
- Christiane Lechle as Christiane's mother
The film was shot with a low budget in 1980 and released in 1981, but set between 1975 and 1977 in West Berlin. It skips the beginning and the end of the book, and concentrates on the main story, starting when Christiane begins her nightlife in Berlin at around 13 years old, and stops rather abruptly after her suicide attempt by stating that she recovered. In the real story, Christiane F. never fully recovered from her addiction, nor did her troubles end with going to Hamburg to begin withdrawal.
Originally the film was going to be directed by Roland Klick, but he was fired only two weeks before shooting, after a fallout with Bernd Eichinger. Uli Edel came in to direct the film. Cinematography is bleak and dreary, depicting a dilapidated, working-class Berlin with rundown structures and dirty, blighted backdrops.
The cast is composed mainly of first-time actors, most of whom were still in school at the time and have mostly not pursued acting careers since. Natja Brunckhorst is the only cast member who continued to act in German films and television, starting with 1982's Querelle by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, at the time the highest-grossing film with a strongly homosexual theme. Most of the extras at the railway station and at SOUND were actual drug users and prostitutes. In the scene where Christiane runs through the alleys of the station to find Babsi, the camera lingers on several drug users leaning against the walls of the underpass. In a 2011 interview, Thomas Haustein, who played Detlev and was still in school at the time, recalled how terrified he felt being surrounded by real-life addicts, but that he was able to successfully copy their behaviour for his character. It would now be illegal to have minors act in the film's graphic shoot-up, nudity and sex scenes; at the time, however, all the production needed was a written letter of consent from the parents to proceed with filming.
The David Bowie concert featured in the film actually took place in New York City, with only some of the crew and cast attending, because at the time Bowie was performing on Broadway several nights a week and could not shoot in Berlin. The close-up shots of Bowie were from this New York performance, whereas the mass audience scenes were from an AC/DC concert in Germany. The two were spliced together to seem as one event.
Both the film and the book acquired cult status in Europe immediately after release, raising awareness of heroin addiction. The popularity of the film was greatly boosted by David Bowie's participation as both himself (portrayed giving a concert early in the film) and as the main contributor to the soundtrack. Bowie's music from his albums made in Berlin during 1976 and 1977 is heavily featured throughout the picture, and as he was at the very peak of his popularity during the late 1970s and early 1980s, his presence helped boost the film's commercial success.
Christiane and her cohorts are seen losing consciousness in decrepit lavatory cubicles amidst urine, vomit and blood, injecting in close-ups, cleaning and re-filling syringes directly from the toilet bowl, vomiting all over themselves and falling asleep right on top of it. The depiction of young addicts from seemingly normal families was particularly alarming. At the time junkies were still perceived in popular culture as much older, wilder characters, such as those depicted in Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider or in Lou Reed's songs. Christiane turns 14 halfway through the film, the same age as her friend Babsi, who fatally overdoses. Christiane's boyfriend in the film is 15, portrayed by a 14-year-old actor. None of their companions, two of whom also fatally overdose, are older than 16, as reported by end titles recalling the birth and death dates of the real-life individuals portrayed in the film. The fact that the characters prostitute themselves, both hetero and homosexually, at such a young age, revolted audiences.
All songs written by David Bowie except "Heroes/Helden" written by Bowie/Eno/Maas, "Boys Keep Swinging" and "Look Back In Anger", both written by Bowie/Eno. According to the book, the real Christiane F. had had her first experience with heroin at a David Bowie concert some years earlier; this is told in the film with David Bowie starring as himself. The concert scene was filmed in October 1980 at New York's Hurrah nightclub, which was redressed to resemble a Berlin nightclub (Bowie was appearing nightly on Broadway at the time so director Ulrich Edel had to shoot the sequence in New York).
- "V-2 Schneider"
- "TVC 15"
- "Boys Keep Swinging"
- "Sense of Doubt"
- "Station to Station" (Live)
- "Look Back in Anger"
- Memento, a novel by Radek John
- For Your Own Good, by Dr. Alice Miller, discusses Christiane F.'s case at length.
- "Roland Klick: Celebration". MUBI.
- Allen, Mark (2 June 2010). "Detlev Lives!". Vice. Retrieved 21 November 2016.
- "Christiane F." Rotten Tomatoes.
- Pegg, Nicholas (2002). The Complete David Bowie. Reynolds & Hearn. p. 461. ISBN 1-903111-40-4.
- Miller, Alice (2002) . "The Search for the Self and Self-destruction through Drugs: The life of Christiane F.". For Your Own Good (4th ed.). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0-374-52269-3.