Monday, 30 May 2011



It is easy for people to dismiss heroin addicts as idiots. Indeed, it's easy for people to dismiss drug addicts in general, or even drug users, as varying levels of idiots. What else but utter, utter stupidity could account for someone willingly putting themselves in thrall to something with so much downside and so little upside? Why would anyone with an IQ higher than 12 do that to themselves: endanger their physical and mental health, their jobs, their families, their lives? Of course I'm wondering this from the perspective of someone who's never touched drugs and never will, who thinks it looks like an incredibly irrational thing to do. It's not necessarily a criminality thing: alcohol is legal and I don't get the appeal of that either. Maybe it's simply easier for people to adopt a comcortable position of intellectual superiority than it is to try and understand what drove them to it in the first place, and what drives them back to it.

The trick that Uli Edel's Christiane F manages to pull off is presenting you with a perfectly normal, pretty and intelligent 14-year-old girl who becomes addicted to heroin, without you writing her off as an idiot. She may be from a broken home, living in an unattractive tower block with her mother and her new boyfriend, but she's not mistreated or abused. Yet she joins up with a bad crowd at the local disco, gets herself a boyfriend, and dabbles in drugs, swiftly becoming an addict. And the deeper the addiction the worse she has to do to get the money for more drugs - burglary, begging, prostitution (giving manual relief to middle-aged men in cars - remember, she's 14). Even when her friends start dying as a result of their addiction, she and her boyfriend continue. And when they manage to go through agonising withdrawal, they go straight back on....

It's a bleak, highly naturalistic film - no effects, almost no music (what music there is consists mostly of David Bowie, who appears in the movie in concert) and an overwhelming sense of believability. Yet you never write Christiane off. Even when she's finally, painfully clean, she starts shooting up again immediately because she knows she can come off it whenever she wants - an act that genuinely makes you want to throttle some sense into her but somehow you still can't hate her, you do want her to survive. That's down to the utterly convincing acting and the unsensational, almost documentary tone of the film.

Christiane F is absolutely no fun but it's a tough, riveting and frequently painful watch. It's a film that doesn't glamourise drug taking in the slightest, but presents it as a dirty, sordid, squalid business that provides no joy and wrecks and ultimately destroys lives. It's now a week since I saw the film and it's stayed with me: it's hardly got a false step in it (perhaps right at the end, the very final bit seems too abrupt) and while it's not a film I want to see again, at least for a while, it's certainly a film I admire and respect. Recommended.


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