Kino Kosmos was a small modernist black box on Berlin's Kark-Marx-Allee, its simple, interlocking volumes contrasting with the area's Stalinist bombast. It was until the Wende the venue of choice for film premières, a capsule of fantasy on the GDR capital's showcase avenue, and has since retained all its glitz as a disco with a distinctive East Berlin flavour.
It is the Kosmospalast's ambition, as a nebula of dissenting desires, to bring to the fore nonnormative sexualities, submerged identities and disregarded voices, and it is film's prime role to produce groundbreaking representations of normally invisibilized experiences. The Kino Kosmos is a site of resistance against the hegemonic treatment of minorities, the omnipotence of the white-male-heterosexual-capitalist order and its intrinsic structures of power.
Kino Kosmos chose to focus primarily on peripheral urban territories where extreme social tensions are calling dominant political systems into question. The films listed below deal in various ways with the complex interactions between spatial politics, economics, gender/sexual issues and the class/race discriminations structuring society as a whole, placing those sites of struggle and resistance at the juncture of new political formations that the dominant power can no longer ignore.
Marguerite Duras, Les Mains Négatives/Césarée/Aurélia Steiner Melbourne (France, 1979)
A melancholic meditation on desire, love and loss with Paris as sole subject of representation. Just as in Le Camion where Duras had explored issues of social marginalisation on peripheral estates, these short films consist of long tracking shots of the city seen from its boulevards and the river. The French postcolonial context strongly informs Les Mains Négatives as the country was by the end of the 1970s beset by renewed racial tensions and increased relegation.
Claude Faraldo, Themroc (France, 1973)
An anarchist all-out attack on the twin pillars of bourgeois society: work and the nuclear family. As the proletariat is enslaved to the capitalistic requirements of maximal profitability, the city itself undergoes massive restructuring in the shape of technocratic, market-driven urban projects, while Themroc, regressing to a languageless state and breaking every civilisational taboo, excavates his flat into a primeval grotto reminiscent of Matta-Clark's Anarchitectures.
Jean-Luc Godard, Alphaville. Une étrange Aventure de Lemmy Caution (France/Italy, 1965)
Dystopian vision of a Paris reduced to a network of signs and abstract architectures set in a permanent winter. The city's new landmarks (Maison de l'ORTF, Orly Airport, office blocks lining the Péripherique) loom in their brutal monumentality and far from embodying progress and modernity take on a far more sinister edge. Paris, eerily transfigured through the minimal use of light sources, is cut adrift from any identifiable history and falls prey to the technocratic Alpha 60 state.
Éric Rohmer, L'Ami de mon Amie (France, 1987)
Romantic intrigue set in one of the Paris villes nouvelles. Cergy's town centre, designed to foster new communities and form with the capital an organic whole, is shown shortly after completion with its integrated complex of institutional buildings, shopping arcades and snazzy housing schemes. Seamlessly connected to the historic core by a high-speed transit system, it embodies the dream of free access to leisure and culture, unimpeded by social tensions and fractures.
Jacques Tati, Playtime (France/Italy, 1967)
A celebration of and warning against modernist aesthetics and the technocratic organisation of life. Recreated in a blandly generic International Style version of itself (the sumptuous set of Tativille) Paris as an organic urban entity has all but vanished and only survives in a few commodified fragments. Orly once again strikes the imagination and embodies the bold, new world of mass tourism with its uncluttered spaces, clean surfaces and smooth stewardesses' voices.
Andrea Arnold, Fish Tank (UK/Netherlands, 2009)
Hopes of escape and self-realisation on a deprived Essex council estate. After her CCTV-saturated film noir Red Road, Arnold unflinchingly exposes the violence of social relations within the most marginalised parts of the white working class. From highrises earmarked for demolition to 'exclusive', aspirational 'urban villages', it is British social life as a whole and the fiction of a victorious middle-class to emulate that seep through the disrupted, scarred landscapes of the A13 corridor.
Jacques Baratier, La Ville-Bidon (France/West Germany, 1971)
Satire des collusions existant entre sphères politiques et financières sur fond de mutations urbaines au début des années soixante-dix. Vermeil est la ville nouvelle du futur construite dans un souci de développement collectif harmonieux. Mais ces ambitions masquent des mécanismes de relégation sociale et raciale, qui de destructions de bidonvilles à l'hébergement de populations marginalisées en cité d'urgence, sont consubstantiels à la société française postcoloniale.
Alain Corneau, Série Noire (France, 1979)
A travelling saleman's hallucinatory odyssey through the Paris banlieues. Roaming a deserted Créteil, Franck Poupart ekes out a living from deception and eventually murder amongst equally relegated, wretched lives. A dark tale of social disintegration and human misery at the tail end of the 1970s, as the Modernist ideal is terminally tarnished and before the Left has even assumed power, it is an indictement of the powerlessness of emancipatory discourses at changing life.
Abdellatif Kechiche, L'Esquive (France, 2004)
Marivaudage moderne dans une cité de Seine-Saint-Denis, où l'émancipation de codes prédéterminés, le pouvoir du langage comme marqueur social, les rapports entre les sexes et l'appartenance au groupe sont intimement imbriqués. La cité sert de décor discret à des rituels amoureux complexes, mais des intrusions policières extrêmement violentes rappellent aux jeunes protagonistes de ces jeux la réalité des discriminations raciales à l'œvre dans la société.
Kurt Barthel, Fräulein Schmetterling (East Germany, DEFA, 1965-66)
Female self-determination and independence in the context of socialist edification in 1960s East Berlin. An oneiric paean to the irrepressible power of fantasy and imagination in an ideologically stifling world, the film was deemed suspicious by the GDR authorities and never released. It shows how effectively control and coercion can be exerted and gender roles consolidated in the channelling of subversive (female) desires by means of drastic architectural intervention.
Sally El Hosaini, My Brother the Devil (UK, 2012)
Two British Arab brothers from a council estate in Hackney face the realities of inner-city deprivation, gangland violence and thwarted social aspirations. Rash is hero-worshipped by his younger sibling and happily assumes this role until an unexpected encounter opens up a new world of possibilities and upsets the existing order. A tale of brotherly love and group loyalty exploring the yearning to belong, the force of social norms and the questioning of fixed sexual identities.
Jonathan Glazer, Under the Skin (UK/USA/Switzerland, 2013)
Human power structures seen through the eyes of an alien murderer cruising around the streets of Glasgow in search of male preys. The multifarious mechanisms of domination/victimisation are laid bare on all levels of social existence with sexual oppression, class segregation and prejudices afflicting nonnormative bodies set against the backdrop of the benighted city, the ultimate crystallisation of a consumption-obsessed, exclusionary, seemingly self-perpetuating order.
Jean-Luc Godard, Deux ou trois Choses que je sais d'elle (France, 1967)
'Elle', la Région Parisienne et l'héroïne forcée à la prostitution. Étendue informe de chantiers et de quartiers dépecés, Paris/le corps féminin sont à la merci de processus de commodification et d'exploitation, symbolisés par le Boulevard Périphérique et les grands ensembles de banlieue. 'Les 4000' de La Courneuve n'ont sans doute jamais paru si cinématographiques mais ennui, abandon politique et déclassement social n'allaient pas tardé à en faire une poudrière.
Roman Polanski, Repulsion (UK, 1965)
Persona meltdown and sexual torment in a menacing London. Swinging though it may be, signs of decay and cracks are appearing in its fabric, gradually turning it for Carole into an unnerving, hostile wilderness. The aggression, made pervasive through an omnipresent male gaze, spreads to the interior of her flat whose borders with the outside world become more and more indeterminate as distorsions of space reinforce the hallucinatory nature of male intrusions.
Andrzej Żuławski, Possession (France/West Germany, 1981)
Zulawski's unsung masterpiece mixing metaphysical schlock, intellectual grandiloquence with gory sex. Anna plumbs the depths of unspeakable desire as she retreats into a dilapidated flat overlooking the Berlin Wall to service a tentacular creature she herself gave birth to in the U-Bahn. Wandering between redeveloped Wedding and half-destroyed Kreuzberg she is ubiquitous and sexually omnipotent in a city teetering on the brink of psychotic meltdown and despair.