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Erich Kästner is a famous German writer who is mostly remembered for his children’s novels. Even my generation probably still remembers his “Emil and the detectives”, but in his long life and career, Kästner also wrote books for adults. Such is his novel “Fabian. Die Geschichte eines Moralisten” from 1931, when the action of the novel takes place in Berlin. Kästner wrote that novel in a modernist style, actually using some film techniques such as short cuts, and the experienced German filmmaker Dominik Graf decided to use an identical style in film language, who took upon himself the not-so-simple task of adapting the novel to the screen.

Thus, “Fabian oder Der Gang vor die Hunde” was premiered in the main program of the festival in Berlin, and in the selection for the German film of the year, it was awarded for the best cinematography and editing. And it is precisely this modernist style that makes this romantic drama stand out from most of the content that is filmed about that historical period, since we have that restless hand-held camera, sharp and short cuts in the editing, and the photography occasionally changes from standard to grainy, old-fashioned inspired by the aesthetics of the thirties. At times, all of this is supplemented with archival footage of Berlin in the 1930s, and it all seems a bit chaotic, confusing, and occasionally distracting from the story itself.

And it’s a story that is somewhat reminiscent of probably the most famous and even film-serial exhibit of that time, “Berlin Alexanderplatz” by Alfred Döblin from 1929, based on which Rainer Werner Fassbinder filmed the famous series in 1980. Apparently, this legendary novel was extremely influential on the then young Kästner, just as obviously Fassbender’s often chaotic, wild, almost schizophrenic style influenced Graf. A big problem with “Fabian” is the length, and it seems to me that the film was unnecessarily stretched to a full three hours, and maybe it could have been done more economically.

In the foreground is the romance between ambitious writer Jakob Fabian (Tom Schilling) and Cornelia (Saskia Rosendahl), a beautiful law student who dreams of becoming an actress. Fabian works in the marketing department of a cigarette factory in Berlin. He is dissatisfied with his job and hopes to become a writer, and his wish will begin to come true when his boss fires him because he doesn’t come to work very often. He prefers to spend his time in the company of his best friend Labude (Albrecht Schuch) in night outs, in Berlin clubs and cabarets, and 32-year-old Fabian has a cynical view of love, a life still traumatized by what he survived as a young man during the First World War .

But that will change when he meets the young and beautiful Cornelia during one of his outings, and it will be one of those cinematic loves at first sight. And while Fabian is languishing more and more in penury and poverty, Cornelia will be taken in by a famous film director and will make her a star, and it is questionable whether their love and relationship can survive at all. The strongest asset of this film is an excellent depiction of time and space, that is, Berlin from the beginning of the thirties at the dawn of Nazism, when it is not yet known whether the Nazis, communism or some moderate option will prevail there. Subtly, as we travel through the labyrinth of streets, restaurants, nightclubs, brothels and similar places where Jakub and the Swans spend their time, we also follow the rise of Nazism, as well as who were those people who silently accepted it, and I have the impression that from this film one could get a lot more out of it.