Harun Farocki – Leben – BRD AKA How to Live in the German Federal Republic (1990)
7 August 2010 | by oOgiandujaOo (United Kingdom)
My only previous experience of Farocki prior to watching Leben – BRD (How to live in the FRG) was Die Bewerbung (The Interview). The subject of that documentary film was the preparing of people who had difficulty finding work for job interviews. The movie highlighted how unnatural it was to be in a situation where you had to sell yourself (the training provides promotion of an unnatural self-awareness), where you have to project a compliant image for the Procrustean corporate scrutiniser. Leben – BRD expands on this limited scenario to provide a number of training scenarios. This includes training people to kill, provide obstetric care, separate those involved in domestic arguments etc. All this is interspersed with factory images of equipment being tested for longevity (for example a car door being opened and closed a thousand times by machine). It all comes off as quite banal and sterile programming. There is no room for personality, there is no room for personal connection. I’ve heard how feeling is something that has been outsourced to professionals (psychiatrists), here the psychiatrists are just as impersonal, running a child through a quick-march battery of standardised tests, getting a patient to draw a time series graph of the progression of their phobia, incapable of providing what the patient needs, a shoulder to cry on, someone to hug and understand.
The film is quite challenging, whilst in Die Bewerbung it is quite straightforward for one to draw criticisms on the requirements forced upon individuals by corporate culture and professionalism, in Leben – BRD this is more tricky, not many people are going to criticise the training of midwifes in techniques designed to aid healthy birth, unless they have the extreme opinions of someone like Hermann Nitsch and believe in bloody, violent and cathartic spectacles.
As someone who has participated in role play courses I can say that I find them deeply uncomfortable, and more, I find others not finding them so even more uncomfortable. I think even if you grant that there are ostensible benefits of these courses, they do produce such monotonous desensitised behaviour, and the question is, who really benefits? Christopher Pavsek wrote a quite brilliant review of Leben-BRD, which he labelled as Farocki’s best movie, back in 2008, in an article covering Farocki’s entire career, for the Australian magazine Rouge. I recommend that you ferret that out for further reading as he quite rightly points to the humour in the film and also the presence of “micro-narratives” with very apt examples.