What to do in Case of Fire (2001)

“They are politically misguided and sexually depraved.”

“We breathed in the same stuff as those anarchists.”

This lively German film begins in Berlin 1987 with footage of clashes between the German police and anarchists. Fast forward 13 years to 2000 when a bomb explodes in an empty building. Two people are injured in the blast, and a police hunt begins for those responsible. The bomb is analyzed and its construction places it within the period 1984-1988. Manowsky (Klaus Lowitsch) a veteran policeman who specialized in subversives during that time period is called in to solve the case. Manowsky begins digging back through lists of subversives from the 80s and during a police raid in a squat in notorious Machnow Street, a large amount of material is seized from two anarchists-Tim (Til Schweiger) and Hotte (Martin Feifel).

The police don’t know it, but they’ve accidentally managed to seize evidence that will identify and convict all the members of Group 36. The members of this anarchist collective, unfortunately, foolishly took souvenir footage of some of their exploits, and Tim and Hotte realize it’s just a matter of time before the police examine the film and track them all down. Back in the 80s, the group consisted of six comrades-four males and 2 females who shared the squat in Machnow Street. Only Tim and Hotte are still true to their anarchist beliefs, and the other four members have been recuperated by capitalist society to one degree or another. Tim and Hotte, who have no contact with the former members of the collective in years, initially, plan to flee to Poland, but instead, they decide to remain behind, and warn their former comrades.

The former members of the collective have various reactions to seeing Tim and Hotte again. Terror (Matthias Matschke) is now a lawyer, Nele (Nadja Uhl) is a single mother, Flo (Doris Schretzmayer) is affluent and about to get married, and Maik (Sebastian Blomberg) is an extremely wealthy advertising executive, considered a bit of a rebel by the business types who surround him. These four would rather forget the past, but with a criminal case looming before them, they can’t. In fact, since these four have `new lives’ (to one extent or another), they actually have far more to lose than Tim and Hotte, but at the same time, now they’re `respectable’, they seem unlikely to plan and participate in a raid on the fortified police barracks.

Many resentments simmer beneath the surface of the relationships of these six ex-collective members. Will they be able to work together to seize back the incriminating film? Tim and Hotte both feel abandoned by their former friends, and the film emphasizes the connection between the people they used to be and the people they’ve become. Maik, the most affluent of the six, seems the most appalled by the conditions of the squat, and he can hardly believe that he once lived there with his friends. The four recuperated anarchists (Terror, Nele, Flo, and Maik) don’t particularly want to address the moral shift of their movement from anarchism, and the implication seems to be that they’ve “moved on” from their youthful enthusiasm and energy, and simply given up the struggle. Ironically, the group’s old nemesis, Manowsky, has a grudging respect for those who didn’t ‘sell out’ and this supplies the film with a surprisingly-although slightly unbelievable ending. In German with subtitles What to Do In Case of Fire is directed by Gregor Schnitzler.

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Filed under German, Political/social films

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