Berlinale review: Jesus Egon Christ (2021)
Perspektive Deutsches Kino
Deciding to review Jesus Egon Christ for Ubiquarian came as a spontaneous wish to analyse a film that doesn’t quite fit any strict classifications. Fiction is not what we write about if the film’s length surpasses the 40 minutes mark, and here we would be breaking the rule twice if it weren’t for a curious case of documentarisation of specific events played by a predominantly amateur cast. To one of them – Benjamin „Ben“ Stein, who passed away after the film was completed, the director duo David & Saša Vajda dedicate their fictiondocu based on a 2-year-long research at „methadone clinics, needle exchanges and on the streets“ of their neighborhood in Berlin-Neukölln.
Drug addiction is not the topic of the film which shows curiosity to discover what’s hiding behind the mask of substance abuse, people’s true identities and the way they go through the day.
An evangelical parish outside of Berlin, run by a self-proclaimed priest (Sascha Alexander Geršak), a former drug-abuser, houses a number of addicts. The priest is a somber character, not the emotional, helpful type. His vulnerable tenants – „sick little hearts and godless worms“ – have to go through the drug withdrawal cold-turkey only by the means of prayers and a bizarre form of help meetings. The bait for the complete submission is given in form of free meals and accommodation. Compared to other prospects – a spot under the birdge, a junky hide out, priest’s shelter is heaven.
The photography by the cinematographer Antonia Lange is stone-cold as the life she is filming. With the fluid camera movement, the people and their destinies are brought close to the viewer, but only just not to trasspass the border of decency. Night and day look the same. The problems pile up instead of going away. They are stored in the subconscience, but there is always a glimpse of hope.
The setting is ideal to set the story in. Secluded, humble, claustophobic.
A newcomer sets the tune to the narrative, a young man called Egon, played by the Berlin-based American musician/ performer Paul Arámbula. Watching him transform into a mentally unstable insomniac harmed by the extensive use of illicit substances, stuttering words, scratching his scalp while struggling to bring out a meaningful sentence, is a hair-raising experience. Arámbula’s portrayal of a fragile man whose mental illness is down-falling, is gripping. Among people with too many problems to deal with, his ’case’ isn’t seen as special. Nobody is alarmed by his strange behavior in a place where nothing is normal.
His psyche irreparably tarnished, Egon finds connection to Jesus who starts speaking to him in a language he finally can understand. The son of God seems to be sharing Egon’s dislike of showers, he even confesses of not being a miracle-maker, but merely a magician like David Copperfield, who can perform tricks.
Out of priest’s sight, the tenants have their own tricks to fight or feed their addiction. The latter is played, the first mostly improvised with non-actors being themselves.
Jesus Egon Christ has just world-premiered in the Berlinale’s Perspektive deutsches Kino program.
Original Title: Jesus Egon Christus
Produced by: David Vajda
Written/ Directed by: David & Saša Vajda
DoP: Antonia Lange
Set Design: Christina Chelaru, Lili Avar
Costumes: Christina Schmitt
Costume Assistant: Sophia Sigel
Make-up: Saskia Wegner
Sound Recording: Max Hartstang, Augusto Rousset
Gaffers: Pablo Ruiz Holst, Luca Pizzato
Camera Assistant: Joachim Neumann
Editors: David & Saša Vajda, Benjamin Mirguet
Colour Grading: Maximilian pauly, Abdul Twebti
Sound Design: Jan Brett, Ingmar Birk fehrle, Max Hartstang
Re-Recording Mixer: Jan Brett
Foley Artists: Luis Schöffend
Foley Recordist: Annika Ballweg
Cast: Paul Arámbula, Sascha Alexander Geršak, Angelo Martone, Roxanna Stewens, Benjamin Stein, Zora Schemm