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THE CHILD I NEVER WAS
aka EIN LEBEN LANG KURZE HOSEN TRAGEN
USA: Strand Releasing
Cast: Tobias Schenke, Sebastian Urzendowsky, Ulrike Bliefert, Walter Gontermann, Jurgen Christoph Kamcke, Sebastian Ruger, Stephan Szasz, Roland Riebeling
Director: Kai S Pieck
Language: German (English subtitles)
USA: 83 mins
USA Release Date: 8 October 2004 (Limited Release - New York)
1972. Marked by illness, 26 year-old Jurgen Bartsch - convicted of having murdered several children - recounts his life story during a therapy session that is being recorded on video in the Eickelborn State Psychiatric Clinic. This video monologue (which is based on the published records of recordings and letters) is intercut with a series of re-enacted flashbacks that illustrate what is being related: Bartsch's recollections of his childhood and youth in the 1950s and 60s, as well as the murders themselves. There are also occasional inserts from Bartsch's diary entries and his reflections on himself and his deeds. The film uses various montage techniques to approach Bartsch's personality exclusively from his own perspective, without any outside commentaries.
The sequence of flashbacks begins with the first killings. From this point on, Bartsch's childhood and youth unfold relatively chronologically. The chief aspects here are the themes of work, parents, family, puberty, growing up, children, friendship, sexuality, love and libido. Bartsch describes how he suffered from the mental cruelty and the ignorance of his family and the people around him - an environment that seems to be unremarkable and virtually average on the surface. He also talks about his inability to have a normal social life, his lack of acceptance from his peers, his position as an outsider, the brutal enforcement of the rigid rules at his boarding school, the experience of his first true but unreturned love, and, finally, the development of his murderous fantasies.
At the end, he describes the last murder and the attempted fifth murder, which went awry and led to his capture.
Formally, the film dispenses with the traditional dramaturgical criterion of the build-up of tension. Tension arises through the confrontation of Bartsch's personality and its contradictions. The optical mix of styles from fictitious video documentary material and staged cinematic artificiality seeks to bring this out more strongly. The film is the attempt to shed light on the phenomenon of Jurgen Bartsch and to approach this mystery from the outside. It is an endeavor to reach within him but without seeking to explain the incomprehensible. It wishes to create moments of emotion that can lead to pity for the criminal Bartsch, but without ultimately wanting to excuse his deeds or even to justify them.