DVD Review: Christiane F. (1981)
If the government wanted to save a few quid on its anti-drug campaigns, it could simply place a bulk order of the newly-reissued Christiane F. DVD and show it to every impressionable teen in the country. Trust me, it would work far better than any number of clever ad campaigns.
I first encountered the movie some years back, renting it on the basis of a Berlin-era Bowie soundtrack. To say it shocked was an understatement, but because it's so shocking, Christiane F. is probably the finest movie about drugs ever made. Why? Well, in some ways, Christiane F. is a typical inner-city tale - arriving in a new town, broken home, wanted to to be hip, wanting to be popular and wanting to belong. But because it's so typical, it's all the more real.
Christiane's parents have split and she's living with her mother in a tower block that 'smells of piss and shit'. Life's grim, but for one thing - David Bowie. She's a fanatical fan and yearns to be where all the other Bowie fans hang out - the uber-hip Sound club in the centre of West Berlin. When her slightly older friend Kessi takes her there, she's in heaven. But it's the start of a steep decline for this 13-year-old.
At first it all starts so well - wall-to-wall Bowie, her first boyfriend (Detlev) and the chance to hang around with the cool kids, a bunch of hippies, punks and general drop outs. As they tear around Europa Center trashing windows and fleeing from the law, the sense of optimism almost bursts out of the screen.
But from taking 'trips', the big 'H' gradually takes hold of the gang. When Detlev goes down that road, it's inevitable that Christiane will follow. And on the night of the big Bowie gig in Berlin (on the back of seeing Detlev with another girl), she takes her first heroin hit. The first step onto the slippery slope.
And what a slope! Prostitution (straight and gay), drug thefts in stinking toilet cubicles, stealing from our family, dead bodies rotting in squats, physical and mental decay, the drug-fuelled decline of friends, the grim reality of shooting up drugs (and throwing up after), not to mention needles clogged up with blood and the pain and mess of trying to get off heroin. It's all here and more. Heroin chic it isn't.
Yet despite all of that, Christiane F. is an incredibly watchable movie. It's superbly acted (Natja Brunckhorst's performance as Christiane is as good as anything you'll see), very well directed by Uli Edel, has a top-notch and very appropriate Bowie soundtrack, a great piece of 'mock' live footage of Bowie (ripping through Station to Station), some wonderful shots of early-80s West Berlin and a story you really can buy into. Like the book (which you really should seek out), the movie version of Christiane F. doesn't make drugs sexy, it simply lays out the facts, no matter how hard they might be to swallow. The scenery might have dated, but this is still the definitive anti-drugs movie and would certainly be in my top 100.