Casting

 

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A movie that finds success by downplaying its own brilliance.

 
Casting

Andreas Lust and Corinna Kirchhoff

 

We have here a film that is full to the brim with the art that conceals art. It is the work of the German director Nicolas Wackerbarth who is virtually unknown in this country despite the fact that he is also established as an actor, a writer (he is indeed co-author of Casting) and as the editor of a film magazine. What he gives us in this film is one of the best movies ever made about actors and film-making, a work that carries a deep-rooted sense of authenticity akin to what Mia Hansen-Løve achieved in 2009's Father of My Children. But, whereas that film told a story against a background featuring the business of film production, Casting for much of its length seems less concerned with developing a plot than allowing the viewer to see a competitive world from the inside. It is one in which actors, directors and their associates are all caught up when a film is being prepared and auditions to cast a leading role are at a crucial juncture. In Casting the film being set up is for television but what we see is just as valid as it would be if it were taking place in a big film studio or in a theatre.

 

For film buffs it will add to the fascination of Casting that the project at its centre is a new film version of Fassbinder's The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant which he adapted from his own stage play. The director embarking on this enterprise is Vera (Judith Engel) who argues that, although the original featured lesbian characters, the piece was about the travails of love generally and to such an extent that it is justifiable that Petra's love interest should now be a man, Karl. With the shoot due to begin in a few days she is still stubbornly seeking to find through auditions the right actress to play Petra and for these tests she uses an actor who has practically given up on his career - that's Gerwin played by Andreas Lust - to read the role of Karl.

 

There are to be sure audition scenes in Casting which involve passages of dialogue from the original Fassbinder piece but, although the power games in that work apply equally even if not sexually to the world we see here, the real focus is on all the details that make up the lives of these people. Thus it looks at the auditioning actresses encouraged, led on and then likely to be dismissed from consideration moments later because they do not fit with Vera's view of Petra. And it looks too at Vera herself whose hope to progress her career has led to conflict between the need to kowtow to the bosses and her desire to be true to her own artistic insights which may not be as commercial. But there's so much more as well: for example, questions arise about the extent to which actors either play themselves or draw on something in their own personality when creating a role and from that come such issues as whether or not it is a problem for a gay man to play a heterosexual (Gerwin standing in as heterosexual Karl is gay).

 

Wackerbarth's triumph is to let all these matters rise to the surface without any sense of artifice. Part of the achievement comes from directing in a way that firmly holds the interest but doing so without ever drawing attention to his direction as such. Throughout we feel that we happen to be present observing a real-life situation and the insights offered are felt as though they are our own discoveries. This is only possible because the whole cast seem to exist as the characters they are playing and that includes those appearing as the five actresses competing for the role of Petra, each distinctive, each real. However, the highest praise on the acting front goes to Judith Engel, who makes Vera an utterly persuasive figure, and to Andreas Lust who as Gerwin finds that his role in the proceedings keeps changing.

 

In theory the challenging part of Casting lies in its first two-thirds when its observation needs to be acute to sustain the film's grip. In the event, however, it is the last third that seems slightly (but only slightly) less sure-footed. Here plot comes to the fore with the introduction of a character mentioned earlier but seemingly no longer relevant to the story. If this is a mite contrived, it also leads to a last sequence that is acceptable yet lacking in any real sense of rounding off the piece in a manner that gives us a wholly apt conclusion. However, these reservations are minor indeed. Fans of Fassbinder can now claim that no other director has given rise to two such unorthodox films that have drawn on his work, but that is definitely the case since Casting now exists to stand alongside Radu Gabrea's intriguing oddity A Man Like Eva (1983) in which Eva Mattes played Fassbinder. But all of that is by the way: what counts most in Casting is not the Fassbinder connection but its deep understanding of actors and filmmakers, their world and the pressures under which they live.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Andreas Lust, Judith Engel, Milena Dreissig, Ursina Lardi, Marie-Lou Sellem, Corinna Kirchhoff, Andrea Sawatzki, Victoria Trauttmansdorff, Nicole Marischka, Stephan Grossmann, Tim Kalkhof.

 

Dir Nicolas Wackerbarth, Pro Franziska Specht, Screenplay Nicolas Wackerbarth and Hannes Held, Ph Jürgen Carle, Art Dir Klaus-Peter Platten, Ed Saskia Metten, Costumes Birgit Kilian.

 

SWR/Piffl Medien Filmverleih-New Wave Films.
91 mins. Germany. 2017. Rel: 31 July 2020. Available on VOD. No Cert.