Jan Soldat Shows
When writing about the depiction of pain in the world, Susan Sontag once spoke about “regarding”. In “Regarding the Pain of Others”, she focused thematically on reactions to images, the responsibility when seeing, as well as on philosophical positions on a realpolitik geographical map. For we are all also part of that which we regard. Regarding something or someone concerns a concept that relates seeing and understanding directly with each other. While showing something or someone constitutes a similarly interesting concept. “Jan Soldat Shows” has developed to become a recurring invitation to view the filmmaker’s decade of work by now. And Jan Soldat shows how it feels to look attentively, to see in a certain way, and to view people in their humanity beyond categories.
Jan Soldat’s films negotiate the incomplete promises of truth in the photographic image at lived realities, as well as in the uniqueness of individual cases and characters: What we do not see we can only recognise with difficulty. And what we recognise is already a truth as such. One truth of many. Which makes a conversation with Jan Soldat quite a pleasant experience: A shared, tentative recognising, questioning and mutual curiosity. An attitude as such to people that reveals an unpretentious view: Of togetherness. Curiosity. Being. Beyond doubt, these represent cornerstones of his documentaries, which have become a uniquely visible aspect of his life and work over the last few years. In more than 40 short films and documentaries, the filmmaker has sharpened his focus progressively, shooting and editing with ever increasing clarity. Already at an early stage, static framings of the image represented an important element of Jan Soldat’s arrangements, provoking an air of concentrated seeing, and thus doubtlessly becoming a feature of identification. In the process, the fictional enactments have progressively slipped more and more into the background. And yet, all of the traces in Jan Soldat’s works seem to complement each other, marking stages in a journey, approaches to a modus.
For the Chemnitzer Filmwerkstatt, two films were made from 2006 that featured the eccentric Commissar Kresch who, in DER FUCHS VOM POSTHOF (THE FOX FROM THE POST YARD, 2007) as well as in DAS ZERPLATZTE ZIRKUSPFERD (THE BURST CIRCUS HORSE, 2007), dealt in a highly noncommittal manner with cases that were not especially controversial. In the films, he talks a lot while nothing happens as such. And yet crime is lurking there somewhere. One is often reminded of the German entertainer Helge Schneider when considering Peter Hungar, Soldat’s main actor at that time. With laughter being permitted, even if the setting seems so dreary. Hungar soon returned after his roles as the commissar, when he performed a Hitler pastiche in KEIN DEUTSCHMEHRLAND (NO (MORE) GERMANY, 2008). And already here, it seems that Jan Soldat’s scripted enactments with a documentary air work very well. As though it all has been lifted from everyday life: A reclusive, aging dictator being observed in his two-room flat in Chemnitz while he speaks somewhat strangely about cooking and the usual concerns. The film stages the encounter as an awkward conversation with the director – because conducting interviews is just not that easy. And conducting a direct dialogue with off-screen protagonists has become a recurring motif in Jan Soldat’s self-confident documentary form.
In addition to the humorous barbs, impressions of transgressing borders, severity and rage, as well as recurring moments of isolation, uncertainty and fear can be found in many of the early films by Jan Soldat. With people being incapable of speaking to each other (VERBALTRANSFER), injuring themselves or throwing up (SANDWEG 80, 2008), and killing themselves or each other (RUNTER/DOWN and GESCHWISTERLIEBE/LOVE AMONG SIBLINGS, both 2007). In 3 (2007), the director jovially roasted a brain. Frequently, sex and corporeality are central motifs and become entangled with the sensitivities of characters alienated from each other (MUTTER/MOTHER, 2009). During his career, Jan Soldat has tried his hand at directing, screenwriting, camera, sound, editing and production. A diversity that has had a fundamental impact on his subsequent working method. In an early monologue, he even exposed himself to the camera, playing a young filmmaker with his uncertainties (WAHRSCHEINLICH, VIELLEICHT AUCH NICHT/PROBABLY, MAYBE NOT, 2008).
In 2008, Jan Soldat began studying at the Film University Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF (formerly the Film and Television Academy “Konrad Wolf” Potsdam-Babelsberg). With REIN/RAUS (IN/OUT, 2010), he made his first film there which showed sex explicitly and negotiated an indefinable interface between fiction and documentation. ENDLICH URLAUB (FINALLY HOLIDAYS, 2010) was produced independently parallel to his studies and works in a similar manner: With the body becoming its own reality above and beyond the logics of enactments. Yet what is shown in both of the short films shapes a social constellation as well. How one deals on an intimate level with others and with oneself opens up a space for reflection when viewed. A short time later, INTERIM (2011) condensed the motifs from earlier short fiction films into a claustrophobic portrait of a young woman who is perhaps a nymphomaniac. Rigorous, psychologically charged visual compositions dominate here, as well as impressions of isolation and voyeurism, dreariness and obsession. The body and its gender becoming a focal point of our gaze and a landscape of an analytical negotiation shot in close-ups. The staged sobriety and clear framing do not convey a distanced regarding, but rather a revelatory sharpness, candour and lack of fear when viewing. In his work with young lay actors, in CRAZY DENNIS TIGER (2012) and DANN IST ES HALT SO (THAT’S HOW IT IS, 2013), Jan Soldat found an additional facet of the fictional and enacted attentive, tenderly friendly observations here which work at the same time as milieu studies and coming-of-age stories. In this regard, CRAZY DENNIS TIGER, a coproduction with the TV broadcaster rbb, is his most narrative and conventional work to date as it reveals the clear story of a youth who wants to stand up for his brother and cross those who are close to him.
Following his first formulated documentary GELIEBT (BE LOVED, 2010), which was made with a small team at the film school, with ZUCHT UND ORDNUNG (LAW AND ORDER, 2012) Jan Soldat found a way to enact encounters without a film team, by permitting himself and the camera to engage with images of people and situations. The open approach taken at that time with ZUCHT UND ORDNUNG, without any funding or institutional framework, would become a work practice that has accompanied the filmmaker to the present day and which underscores his life and creative output. And “Jan Soldat Shows” also conveys the film production realities in Germany, where courageous material has a hard time, especially if there is no screenplay. The result of these first two short documentaries represents a record of getting to know and trust oneself, of revelation and revealing oneself. Of films which follow a logic of consensus and approach people on the basis of consent and a mutual, direct curiosity about each other. And this directness occurs because it is clear that the relationship with the filmmaker represents a necessity here. In addition to direct conversations, looks and gestures underscore that an awareness of the filmic arrangement exists among all of the participants here. GELIEBT is a portrait of Jens and Pascal, who live together with their two dogs and maintain a deep and even physical relationship with them. ZUCHT UND ORDNUNG shows Manfred and Jürgen during their BDSM games at home.
Already the films which were made at the film school and while studying met with a clear response. GELIEBT was screened in 2010 at the Berlinale Shorts section. That same year, ENDLICH URLAUB (FINALLY HOLIDAYS) went on to win the main prize for the best short film at the Pornfilmfestival Berlin. In 2012, ZUCHT UND ORDNUNG was invited to the Berlinale Panorama section, while its Generation 14plus section presented CRAZY DENNIS TIGER. Also at the short film festival in Oberhausen, ZUCHT UND ORDNUNG was screened in its German competition. Subsequently, the film was invited to more than 100 festivals. All in a single year that generated unique interest in the film and gave the filmmaker an international profile at 26.
Further documentary observations followed. WIELANDSTRAßE 20, 3. OG LINKS (WIELANDSTRAßE 20, 3rd FLOOR LEFT, 2012) shows Jörg and Karsten having sex and ends with silent shots of their apartment. EIN WOCHENENDE IN DEUTSCHLAND (A WEEKEND IN GERMANY, 2013) sees a return to Manfred and Jürgen, who have invited a playmate over for the weekend. BEZIEHUNGSWEISE (RESPECTIVELY, 2013) appears to be a panorama of Jan Soldat’s first documentaries, in which he places people from earlier films together again visually for several moments. As a look at familiar faces and a few new ones, all colourfully mixed together in their life stories and generations, and all united by the impression of a fragmented reality that is playing out somewhere alongside the German society – on a random weekend and in random homes. Jan Soldat himself becomes the connecting line, even if he constantly rejects out of hand overhasty conclusions about the commonalities in his films and the philosophies of his protagonists. That which is separate may remain so. And yet they have become placed next to each other – in relation to each other – within a filmography.
DER UNFERTIGE (THE IMCOMPLETE, 2013) was awarded best short film at the film festival in Rome. This changed how Jan Soldat’s work was perceived both in Germany and internationally, with him being nominated for instance for the German Critics Prize that same year. And with the approach taken to his films becoming more precise. It became clearer that drawing hasty conclusions about being provocative, spectacular or an outsider now represented the wrong track. Instead, his documentaries especially consist of a careful weighting of the means and the purpose for exploring a suitable gesture and air of showing. DER UNFERTIGE begins only with looks. While he is sitting in his slave gear on his bed, the protagonist of the film introduces himself as, “the Odenwald gay… or Gollum… or Klaus. 60 years old… gay… slave.” Jan Soldat’s longest film to date then follows, taking its time as it looks behind these categories, behind a body image, behind a self-image and its forms of enactment. The first silent moment in the film is already reminiscent of a break between two sentences. With this structure having previously permeated several of Soldat’s prior documentaries: Of waiting, considering, orienting oneself, unfinished. There always seems to be potential in his excerpts of reality for the first still-budding gestures, feelings and thoughts. Yet it remains open which position that statement possesses within a whole, as indeed what a whole could be, despite the closed visual framing, thus becoming “incomplete”. Just like in his earlier works, we are experiencing the documentary enactment of an encounter, one which also always illustrates – shows – an authentic encounter within the enactment.
Following his success in Rome, in 2014 Jan Soldat was a member of the international jury in the Generation 14plus section of the Berlinale. The Berlin Pornfilmfestival devoted a focal programme to his portrait films. And by now, his works are represented to an equal extent in film festivals with a thematic direction and at central hubs of the international festival industry. His most recent stops have been at the 2014 Viennale (HOTEL STRAUSSBERG), Rotterdam in 2015 (DIE SECHSTE JAHRESZEIT/THE SIXTH SEASON + DER BESUCH/THE VISIT), the 2015 Berlinale Panorama (HAFTANLAGE 4614/PRISON SYSTEM 4614), as well as once again in the German competition section at Oberhausen (COMING OF AGE) in 2016.
Most recently, the director can be seen with two cycles of films. Currently, the screening venue is a BDSM prison near Berlin. Male customers can have themselves locked up there for a while and be treated as prisoners by strict guards. The actual process of exploring the spaces and the alternating inmates there takes them to the three mid-length films HOTEL STRAUSSBERG (2014), HAFTANLAGE 4614 (2015) and DIE SECHSTE JAHRESZEIT (2015), as well as to the short episode DER BESUCH (2015). Arwed and Dennis are the couple who run the facility together and accompany the stories as a leitmotif. And ultimately, their story is also told in the various encounters there, with it being progressively revealed to be a microcosm with its own inner logic, through to its conception and origin. After that, COMING OF AGE and HAPPY HAPPY BABY (both 2016) are devoted to the phenomenon of adult babies, showing adults living out their desires for genuine closeness and sanctuary. In their games, it quickly becomes clear that sex is increasingly unimportant here, with a journey of exploration and the revelation of corporeality leading to a return to childishness for now, through to asexuality. In the end, two protagonists are together in a park somewhere in Berlin. Out on a photo excursion, with them posing for each other:
“Take some pictures?”
“Yo, wanna see?”
Filmography (a selection):
2016 HAPPY HAPPY BABY
2016 COMING OF AGE
2015 DIE SECHSTE JAHRESZEIT (THE SIXTH SEASON)
2015 DER BESUCH (THE VISIT)
2015 HAFTANLAGE 4614 (PRISON SYSTEM 4614)
2014 HOTEL STRAUSSBERG
2013 DER UNFERTIGE (THE IMCOMPLETE)
2013 BEZIEHUNGSWEISE (RESPECTIVELY)
2013 EIN WOCHENENDE IN DEUTSCHLAND (A WEEKEND IN GERMANY)
2013 DANN IST ES HALT SO (THAT’S HOW IT IS)
2012 WIELANDSTRAßE 20, 3. OG LINKS (WIELANDSTRAßE 20, 3rd FLOOR LEFT)
2012 ZUCHT UND ORDNUNG (LAW AN ORDER)
2012 CRAZY DENNIS TIGER
2010 ENDLICH URLAUB (FINALLY HOLIDAYS)
2010 GELIEBT (LOVED)
2010 REIN/RAUS (IN/OUT)
2009 MUTTER (MOTHER)
2008 KEIN DEUTSCHMEHRLAND (NO (MORE) GERMANY
2008 SANDWEG 80
2008 WAHRSCHEINLICH, VIELLEICHT AUCH NICHT (PROBABLY, MAYBE ALSO NOT)
2007 RUNTER (DOWN)
2007 KOMMISSAR KRESCH UND DAS ZERPLATZTE ZIRKUSPFERD (COMMISSAR KRESCH AND THE BURST CIRCUS HORSE)
2007 GESCHWISTERLIEBE (LOVE AMONG SIBLINGS)
2007 KOMMISSAR KRESCH UND DER FUCHS VOM POSTHOF (COMMISSAR KRESCH AND THE FOX FROM THE POST YARD)