Places in Cities
(Plätze in Städten)

Screening on Film
Directed by Angela Schanelec.
With Sophie Aigner, Vincent Branchet, Katharina Eckerfeld.
Germany, 1999, 35mm, color, 117 min.
German and French with English subtitles.

In Places in Cities, Schanelec affords her protagonist what every teenage girl wants and few get, something more important than happiness: the right to exist for herself. The film follows the laconic Mimmi (Sophie Aigner) between Berlin and Paris, through sexual encounters, family interactions, school and friendship. Across it all, her emotional life remains opaque, as inaccessible to the viewer as it is to those around her. Refusing the expressive face, refusing to depict motivations and responses: described as such, it would be easy to think that Places in Cities is an austere exercise in cruelty. It would be easy, but it would be wrong. Schanelec’s elliptical unsentimentality is a kind of generosity, even an ethics. She skips certain moments to allow others to expand, cultivating tonal complexity through gaps and dilations. A judicious use of music by Joni Mitchell, Portishead and others helps free characters from the burden of emotion, cementing the film’s seductive externality while bathing it in feeling. In so many films, teenage girls are pinned down like butterflies under glass, curious specimens to be fetishized or tamed. In Places in Cities, Mimmi escapes—with strength and uncertainty, pleasure and sadness. – Erika Balsam

Part of program

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