Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Babylon Berlin’ and ‘A Ghost Story’


So much historical drama about Germany, particularly the works that reach our shore, focus on the Nazi years, but “Babylon Berlin” takes us the era before, the Weimar Republic, a period of legendary decadence that ensued following the first-time democratization of the country. It was an explosion that could not be contained.

Officials tried, though, and “Babylon Berlin” follows one, Kommissar Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch), who comes to Berlin to chase down compromising photos of an official from his hometown. Rath becomes embroiled with a pornography conspiracy, as well as the iron hand of police corruption and the underbelly of anti-Stalinist communists from Russia who operate in Germany.

Trapped amidst this sweep of historical events along with Rath is Charlotte Ritter (Liv Lisa Fries), who to support her poverty-stricken family works in a secretarial capacity at police headquarters by day and as an elite call-girl in a debauched nightclub at night. But Charlotte has aspirations — she’s a natural investigator, and her energy at getting the job done is helping her possibly make something more of her life.

“Babylon Berlin” captures the excitement of living in this era. It’s musical, and dance scenes are particularly unique and skillfully realized for television, rousing and dark and intense and inviting, functioning well as a representation by movement of the broader culture it portrays.

Bruch and Fries are also engaging in their roles, rounded out by Peter Kurth as Oberkommissar Bruno Wolter, neither a good guy nor a bad guy, but one of those gray creatures that inhabit the space between and, in the end, usually end up being the pivotal ones in defining how the world operates.


Most movies that claim to be ghost stories are not. They are the stories of hauntings, since they are told entirely from the point of view of the living human. These narratives depend on the distortion of perception to portray events that in the story of a ghost might not be so immediate or even prevalent.

David Lowery’s “A Ghost Story” seeks to rectify this situation by telling the biography of an actual ghost. It’s a quiet, contemplative film that portrays the obsessive monotony of a ghost’s existence, the unsettled emotions that collide with the locational imprisonment that create momentary disturbances in the human realm.

At its most basic, “A Ghost Story” is about a couple, played by Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, who are having slight issues about moving out of their house. After Affleck dies in a car accident, he becomes a ghost, we follow what happens to him as he lurks around the house.

Lowery delivers a poetic representation of this concept. When a person dies, they rise with the blanket they die in as a shroud with eyeholes. At first, it’s an absurd nod to our traditional representation of ghosts, but this becomes a visual that is almost too much to bear as the spirit is draped with an object signifying separation from its own life. It’s a barrier, a mark, that separates the ghost from its former life.

Lowery plays with the perception of time to get the ghostly experience across fully. It’s one of singular purpose that makes all of history seem like a wisp of action, with occasional moments of focus that accentuate the themes of contemplative stretches of the film. Either as metaphor and literal presence, Lowery’s ghost has a lot to reveal about our place within our own existence.

Originally published at

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