The very idea of living without money is a startling one, especially in the contemporary Western world where monetary transactions are an integral part of everyday life. We live in a world where nearly anything and everything can be bought and sold. But Heidemarie Schwermer sought an alternative and decided she wanted to simplify her life.
So in 1996 she literally gave away all her possessions, moved out of her apartment, and began her experiment in living without money. In Living Without Money, director Line Halvorsen follows the 68-year-old German woman as she travels from one home to another, gives talks to various groups about her way of life and participates in radio and television interviews. One of the documentary’s early scenes shows Schwermer, an attractive grandmother with snowwhite hair, talking to a roomful of students in Turin, Italy.
Several admiring students stand up and tell her that they were impressed and thought she was courageous. Then the film cuts to a moment after the talk is over and one student offers these parting words: “I had a negative impression. She believes she lives without money. But in fact she’s living off of other people.” This provocative comment calls into question whether Schwermer is leading a bold life of carefree adventure or simply taking advantage of other people’s generosity. Putting this scene near the beginning of the film, prods viewers to decide what they think about her chosen lifestyle. This dialectic is present throughout the film.
We see Schwermer on a train and wonder: How did she get a train ticket? How does she find a place to stay? Later the film reveals that when she is invited to speak somewhere, they pay for her ticket. She does admit that sometimes she needs money when she travels so she will spend money. Clearly, her idea of living without it is more of a lifestyle attitude: to give, share, help one another, and live within your means.
The documentary shows Schwermer, always well dressed, as someone who seems quite happy with her life. One would never think: this is a woman without a home. At one point, she tells a storekeeper that she is “free and stress free.” Indeed for two-thirds of the film she maintains a relentlessly positive attitude and appears to be living a charmed life. She has a seemingly unshakable belief in her way of living.
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