Epic but not big: “Rheingold”, Fatih Akin’s biopic of the gangster rapper Xatar.
Where did it go, the Rheingold of German cinema? If the multiple Cannes, Berlinale and Venice veteran Fatih Akin is no longer celebrating the premiere of a new film at one of the major international festivals, that doesn’t have to mean anything, of course. For a long time one could justifiably accuse the gatekeepers of film culture there of arrogance and ignorance. For a long time they searched for the “new Fassbinder”, the next Wenders or Kluge, without even saying goodbye to yesterday.
And finally, Akin would be the last to embrace alien expectations. Already with his Berlinale winner “Against the Wall” he had literally run down enough borders. The German-Turkish lovers of their tragic love and survival story not only took the mainstream audience to a carefully overlooked Germany. At the same time, the film’s power pulverized the separation between auteur and genre cinema that seemed almost insurmountable in Germany. Akin’s “On the Other Side”, one of the best German films of the 21st century, casually left these categories behind.
If “Rheingold”, the free film adaptation of the autobiography of the rapper Xatar (originally Giwar Hajabi), was not so interested in the categories of success and recognition, his festival career would probably not be an issue either. But yes, despite all the entertainment value, it simply lacks that special freedom of expression for long stretches, that biting shine that has made Akin one of the few world stars among German directors.
Before hip-hop even becomes a topic in the last act of the film, the film exaggerates the not really interesting career of an up-and-coming petty criminal with grand gestures. Likeable in his first misdeeds – selling self-copied porn videos in the schoolyard – the hero, played first by Ilyes Raoul and then by Emilio Sakraya, develops an impressive ambition.
But unlike his Iranian-Kurdish parents, this ambition has nothing to do with a career in the bourgeois music business or political activism. Once beaten up by stronger boys, he takes an apprenticeship with a martial artist so as not to lose a fistfight in the future. Even as a temporary music business student in Amsterdam, the early aura of invulnerability comes in handy when he prepares to make a career in the highly competitive business of disco bouncer.
An absurd blunder
When Xatar then panders to an unscrupulous drug lord, we shouldn’t really like him – but Akin succeeds in the opposite: an absurd blunder in a drug transport causes him to lose the entire load – and literally forces him against his own will to the next level in the criminal career. Disguised as a tax investigator, he and his cronies “successfully” attack a gold transporter.
This scene, the film’s strongest, is worthy of a Ken Loach. But unlike the heroes in the Briton’s social comedies, the later Xatar is no Robin Hood. The social redistribution only benefits him personally – when he finally, after serving time in prison, resides with his family in a new modernist villa. In between, we almost forgot, there is finally the one event that should also deserve the honor of this biopic: the secret composition and recording of the album “451” in the cell, his breakthrough in gangster rap.
Spread over an epic 138 minutes of film, the proportions are lost, the banal mixes with the deliberately heroic. That too sometimes has its own style and definitely corresponds to the genre of music it’s about – and yet conveys little of Xatar’s artistic work. The smoothness of this comfortably furnished film exudes a golden sheen rather than generating sparkling splinters of life like the films that made Akin famous.
And it is precisely in this that he also confirms new expectations that are currently preceded by German cinema internationally – a film culture saturated by funding that has lost its hunger for images. Of course, that too is a prejudice that is usually left to underfunded debutantes to refute. German films can currently only be found internationally at festivals in the second division. For “Rheingold” it was only Rome this time and not Venice.
Rhinegold. Germany 2022. Director: Fatih Akin. 138 mins