«The temptation is far too big.» This sentiment about organised crime is expressed by one of a group of men chatting in a Späti (one of those small, ubiquitous German corner-stores, where you can buy snacks or stand around a table having a casual drink). They’re among those with a hand in Germany’s illegal underground who open up to directors and in Another Reality,na documentary about that provides a glimpse into their daily lives. The seductive nature of this route to easy money comes up numerous times in this winner of the Audience Award at DOK.fest Munich, which recently screened at the Locarno International Film Festival. But this is not a film that demonises career criminals or simplifies their lifestyle as some kind of moral descent into depravity. Nor does it glamourise their gangster personae, as with a measured concern for the sociological context of their alternative economy, it shows how ambition sometimes finds an outlet when conventional pathways to success are restricted for marginalised communities.
One thing is immediately obvious when we see this trio gathered in the Späti: none of them are white. The racial dimension that informs their complicated relationship to German identity is overtly discussed, as they describe the outsider stigma that marks them out in the nation’s conventional workforce and society, where they feel dismissed under the derogatory term «Kanake» (denoting someone with Turkish, Arab or Southern European roots), and regarded as foreign even if born in Germany. «If my name were Achim rather than Ahmed, the world would look different,» says one. An acquaintance in the store, who is surprised to hear they feel German, is asked what he would think if he saw them on the street, and says he’d assume they were «thugs or something» — and that while some would say they don’t belong, they all «have to make the best of it». The exchange is friendly, as in many situations in which discrimination is structurally normalised, and illuminates how a distinct sense of otherness almost pushes the gangsters to conform to others’ stereotyped expectations, and to turn to ingenuity in bucking a system almost designed to keep them down.
Berlin, in particular, is a «powder keg» where the gangsters «all think …
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