Romuald Karmakar

Romuald Karmakar, Die Nacht singt ihre Lieder (Nightsongs, 2003), 35 mm film, color, sound, 95 min., production still from Studio Babelsberg, Potsdam, 2002, photo: Pantera Film GmbH

Filmmaker Romuald Karmakar draws on the traditions of those who shaped the New German Cinema of the 1960s and 1970s. His films exist within an expanded spectrum of subgenres spanning experimental documentary to experimental fiction, bordering other disciplines, such as performing arts and visual arts. Throughout his filmmaking practice, Karmakar, who was born in 1965 in Wiesbaden, focuses largely on portraying the political history and contemporary culture of Germany. The direct, often radically minimalist analysis of his subject matter immerses viewers in an intimate and uneasy portrayal of environments permeated by rage, terror, and violence.

Karmakar’s feature films revolve around marginality and abjection, and they often refer to the question of genocide that is woven into German consciousness. Yet much of his documentary work renders the violence of speech rather than that of physical acts. Most notably are those historiographies that focus on the perpetrator rather than the victim: Warheads (1992) features mercenaries and legionnaires in a portrait of soldierly culture; The Deathmaker (1995) is based on the transcripts of the interrogation of mass murderer Fritz Haarmann, also called “The Werewolf of Hanover.” The Himmler Project (2000), meanwhile, reconstructs the Reichsführer-SS’s three-hour speech given to SS generals in Posen in 1943, infamous for its open acknowledgment and heroization of exterminating European Jews. In this film, the detailed reenactment of the speech act is based on a gramophone recording, and the staging on the criminal political system and its legitimation strategies. Speech permeates Karmakar’s more recent films as well. The Hamburg Lessons (2006) reenacts two of the sermons of Salafist preacher Mohammed Fizazi recorded in the year 2000. Fizazi’s speeches were regularly attended by the plotters of the 9/11 attacks when they were living in Hamburg, and his rhetoric in denouncing colonialism and Western imperialism, while privileging a totalitarian, martial interpretation of the Qur’an and Islam, is seen to have impacted the radicalization of the Hamburg group in Germany.

Whether focused on the story of an individual serial killer or collective extremists, the genocidal machine of Nazi and SS terror or the biographies of German mercenaries active in Africa, the Balkans, and elsewhere in the 1990s, Karmakar’s intimate filmic portraits reveal the structural and systemic ramifications of the sociopolitical conditions and historical circumstances that foster these milieus. Through a minimalist use of the speech act, Karmakar’s works place the viewer into the position of the addressee of these histories, directly confronting us with the internal logic of radicalized thought.

—Hila Peleg

Posted in Public Exhibition
Excerpted from the documenta 14: Daybook
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