Joschka Fischer Morphs From Radical to Green Star: Movie Review

Former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer in "Joschka und Herr Fischer," by documentary maker Pepe Danquart. The film comes out in German cinemas on May 19. Photographer: Nadja Klier/X Verleih AG via Bloomberg

Joschka Fischer is that rare animal -- a colorful German politician. In a land where dry, lengthy speeches are the rule, his witty candor stands out.

His journey from stone-throwing, left-wing rioter in 1960s Frankfurt to foreign minister in Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s cabinet was an eventful one. Now 63, Fischer quit politics after the Green Party lost power in 2005. He was the party’s most prominent member, and perhaps he still is. Though some Greens say they would like to see him stand for chancellor in 2013, Fischer has said he doesn’t want to return to German politics.

In “Joschka und Herr Fischer,” filmmaker Pepe Danquart, best known for documentaries about extreme climbers and cyclists, sets out to tell German postwar history through Fischer’s eyes and his varied resume. His career included full exposure to Frankfurt’s seedy night scene as a taxi driver and a stint as a laborer at carmaker Adam Opel AG, as well as seven years as Schroeder’s vice-chancellor.

Danquart isn’t critical enough in the film, which opens in German cinemas tomorrow. He allows Fischer’s views to go unchallenged and doesn’t speak to detractors.

Standing in a former Berlin power plant turned nightclub, Fischer is surrounded by projections -- some private, some public footage of himself, and some newsreels of major political events. He comments eloquently, describing how the silence surrounding World War II in the 1950s fueled his generation’s rebellion against their parents.

Terrorist Bloodbath

His own political path changed direction after the Baader-Meinhof gang bloodbath of 1977, the year industry chief representative Hanns-Martin Schleyer was murdered and three leading gang members committed suicide in jail. Fischer withdrew from political activity altogether for a couple of years.

In 1982, he joined the Greens, though not through any environmental conviction. Some amusing footage of a glum Fischer gingerly carrying a fir on a protest march reveals him to be anything but a happy tree-hugger.

The Green Party is the No. 2 electoral force, some polls show, suggesting it may appoint the next chancellor. Twenty-five years ago, Fischer was the first Green to win government office. He caused outrage by taking his oath of office as Hesse environment minister in sneakers. He is disarmingly frank about his utter cluelessness on taking up the post.

Paintball Attack

The party, Fischer says, “wore him out.” You have to sympathize when he is hit with a paintball in the ear at a Greens’ congress because of his support for sending UN-mandated troops to Kosovo in 1999. “I was livid,” he says. He admits he had to fight the urge to grab his attacker.

The film’s main problem is that it attempts to do far too much by telling 60 years of history and does it only from a limited perspective. Cameos with 10 other characters -- many of them from the left-wing protest scene of the 1960s -- give their take on events of the past decades, blurring the focus.

It would have been better to narrow the scope to Fischer’s life story and his view of history, creating a portrait through interviews with critics as well as friends. To some in the conservative camp, he’s still a controversial figure. There’s no hint of that here.

Still, Fischer’s take on events is honest, succinct and entertaining -- all the more so now that he has been out of politics for six years. The movie is worth watching for that.

Rating **½.

What the Stars Mean:
****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
(No stars)    Worthless

(Catherine Hickley is a writer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are her own.)

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