Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Review: Kino by Jürgen Fauth

Kino
Jürgen Fauth
Atticus Books
248 pages
Published April 17, 2012



I like my movies a little bit strange.  My favorites are Jeunet & Caro's The City of Lost Children (La cité des enfants perdus)  and Wes Anderson's The Royal Tennenbaums.  In the case of both films, I walked out of the theater unsure of what I'd just seen, but I knew that my mind had been thoroughly blown.  I imagine that the German audiences of the 1920's and 30's that watched the films directed by Klaus Koblitz (aka "Kino") felt the same way.  That's why they were so valuable.  That's one of the reasons that the Nazi's burned them.

Jürgen Fauth's debut novel focuses on Mina “Wilhemina” Koblitz, the young granddaughter of the famed German filmmaker and the adventure that ensues when a mysterious set of film canisters appear on her doorstep.  The film turns out to be Tulpendiebe (The Tulip Thief), Kino's first and most famous film.  Knowing that her grandfather's films were thought to be lost, Mina knows that she's got something very valuable in her hands and she immediately travels to Germany to watch the film.  Once in Germany the film is stolen, Mina is chased by two men in suits, and a mysterious stranger in a red jacket gives Mina her grandfather's journal.

The journal was my favorite part of Kino.  Written while locked up in a insane asylum in the 1960's, Klaus Koblitz tells the story of how he he made himself into the famous Kino.  Fauth slips in a lot of German film history without being annoying about it.  I certainly didn't know much about Weimer-era Germany, much less about Fritz LangLeni Riefenstahl and others German film luminaries.  It all comes alive in Kino's journal and I found myself wanting to see the films and learn more about the strange time between wars.

Armed with new knowledge about her grandfather, Mina travels to California to find her estranged grandmother and get to the truth about what happened to her grandfather. Her grandmother turns out to be a pill-popping, foul-mouthed and very grumpy.  Meanwhile, the same mysterious men who chased her in Germany have found her in California and they're after her again.  It's all very exciting.

Kino is a strange mish-mash of genres.  It's a mysterious thriller that includes a family history, a "coming to America" story and a hint of magical realism.  On top of all that, it's funny too.  I loved the structure of novel and how each character holds a piece of the story that expands on and sometimes revises an aspect of that story.  But for all the adventure in Kino, I think the story really serves as a method to talk about film as art, how art affects culture and society and the responsibility of the artist in the face of social and political change.

The following paragraph jumped out at me and demanded that it be highlighted and marked with arrows and exclamation points:
There's a rush when you encounter something fresh, something that floors you, a great thing you didn't know existed—a kind of opening in the world, a precipitous teetering on the edge of possibility that's thrilling beyond belief. With age, these moments become more rare, until all that's left is a distant intimation one April day when the wind is just right. By the time you're as old as me, you barely remember they existed at all, unless they come to haunt you in your dreams.
At my advanced age of 33, I am definitely having fewer of these moments and I'm not sure what it is that kills a person's sense of wonder.  Thankfully, every once and a while something does pop up and remind me what that felt like.  In the case of Kino, it sparked a consideration of art and what becomes possible in art when the boundaries are removed and the artist can run amuck.  There might be chaos, but there's always the possibility for a beautiful disaster.  Kino delivers on a cinematic literary thriller, but that creative chaos lies underneath - standing in a foamy sea with a pirate hat and a peg leg.


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