Edvin Vestergaard Kau
The first shot is a moving extreme low-angle shot, a tracking shot taken from the middle of a street, and showing the open sky between high buildings on either side. But then again, it isn't. The movement, the angle, the perspective are there, but when the camera is tilted, it discloses the reality that the picture does not show the view into the sky. Instead, what we see is a reflection in the hood of a car. Herr Hoffmann is arriving in the city this morning to go to work. We move into the film with him, the open sky enclosed in the shining surface of his BMW. What looked like an extreme low-angle shot, is in fact an overhead shot of the hood. This is disclosed through a tilt moving up and across the windshield, and ending in a look along the street behind the car.
Paradoxically, this upward camera movement has brought us from the sky down into the canyon-like space of the townscape. This initial trick and bit of visual magic draws the viewer's attention to the use of space, and increases the awareness of positions and spatial relations within the cinematic presentation. So, I want to look closely at Marc-Andreas Bochert's use of space in Kleingeld, the architecture of his characters' positions and movements, as it were. Of special interest in this respect will be Herr Hermann's position at the end, compared to that of the beginning as described above.
Almost immediately it seems that the homeless beggar and Hoffmann have developed a routine. Every day when he leaves after work, Hoffman gives a little change to the beggar, the latter always standing in the same place with his little paper cup.
Six times we see them meet this way, and part of the story can be found in the variations of the meetings and their construction of cinematic space. (Almost all other shots, locations, and types of camera practice are used in series as well, the variations and intertwining of the different series making the film at this level a beautiful, minimalist, and at the same time emotionally engaging, piece of art.)
The first time, we see that Hoffmann is already taking change from his pocket as he is leaving the building, and before even seeing the beggar. From a long shot, Hoffmann seen from the rear, a cut brings us to a close-up of his hands with the coins, and tracking brings the beggar's hand and cup into the picture, the camera thus ending in a medium close-up of the beggar. As always, he nods without saying a word. This is the raw material for the series of variations that makes it possible to develop the story of the relationship between the two men.
The next example dissolves directly from Hoffmann in his office to a medium close up of him moving past the beggar while giving him the coin. The two locations and actions are linked even closer together by the fact that the dissolve goes from a slow pan right, in the office, to Hoffmann's faster movement, also right, through the frame, and that this shot ends with a little pan right, to the nodding beggar. Same situation repeated in the same spot, but with a new articulation of space material.
The third and fourth occasions are built together in a structure made up of four pans to the right. In a growing rhythm, dissolves bring us from pans in the office to close-ups of hands, cup and, the second time, the beggar's face, the last shot showing him smile and look to the right toward his benefactor. In this way, the director is quickly able to manipulate his use of space and time to show the development and growing convention/understanding between the two. Also, it is important to note that he can rely on the viewer's understanding of these mechanisms, i.e., the cinematic practices and their result: the moving picture of a piece of psychology.
This "Kleingeld-series" shows not only what is happening with Hoffmann's change, it also builds up an understanding of an exchange between the men: of a potentially mutual commitment, which Hoffmann may end up understanding, too. Up to this point, they have at least developed some expectations through their daily routine. This is very effectively shown through a cinematic construction, a spatial variation within shots that simultaneously, through the already mentioned diminishing pieces of time, articulate and draw the viewer's attention to the fact that this period of meetings is fairly long.
From meeting to confrontation
But between meeting four and five, something happens. Already at the beginning of the film, we have seen that fallen leaves and dirt have a tendency to cover Hoffmann's and his colleagues' cars in the outdoor parking lot. Now this is getting worse, and since the beggar has noticed the problem and Hoffmann's annoyance, he begins to exchange work for Hoffmann's change. He cleans and polishes the BMW, which Hoffman notices from his office. But no sooner has he turned down a request for a loan from a man who wants to start his own business - with the remark that he should rather keep his job and: "In der heutigen Zeit ist ein Arbeitsplatz sehr wertvoll" - than we are shown the fifth meeting. For the first time, Hofmann confronts the beggar and speaks to him. He doesn't want him to wash the car; according to him it doesn't need washing, and he threatens to call the guard if the beggar continues to wash it.
The break from the usual pattern of their meeting is immediately articulated in cinematic space. This time there are no pans, no dissolves, no tracking shots or close ups. Just a long shot and a fixed camera position, with the beggar in the foreground and Hoffmann coming from the depth straight at the camera and the beggar. This is in direct contrast to the first time, when he was shown from the rear as he approached the beggar, followed by the gentle depictions of the brief meetings. Then the confrontation takes place, in a static medium two-shot. Meeting is replaced by confrontation. Still, the beggar raises his cup towards Hoffman to remind him of the money. Again, the crux of the matter is repetition - with variations.
Before giving him the coin, Hoffmann feels obliged to stress that it is not for washing the car, but a gift. This is immediately contradicted by the film itself. The very next cut reveals a bird's eye view from Herr Hoffmann's office, showing the beggar washing the BMW very thoroughly and with a lot of car shampoo! Hoffmann starts to call the guard, but hesitates and decides not to. A slight zoom down from his pov suggests a new understanding of the beggar's situation. His facial expression and the music, together with the zoom, point to the beggar's dignity. The variations within the cinematic space are gradually articulating this as a story with a moral.
On equal terms?
But the sixth meeting brings another variation in style. In a tracking close-up (revealing his frustration and determination) the camera moves backwards in front of Hoffmann, following him on his way from the door and this time not to, but past, the beggar. A close-up of the beggar turning his face as Hoffmann passes interrupts the tracking shot. The montage and camera movements literally visually dissect their conflict. When Hoffman changes his mind, stops, and returns to the beggar, the camera also stops and tracks with him. In a short repetition of the last confrontation (close two-shot), Hoffmann says: "Aber mehr gibt's nicht!" The beggar nods his head in precisely the same way as earlier – but now important variations in the visual presentation have brought nuances into the description of their relationship and its development, as well as to the way in which the audience can focus its attention on these things.
In spite of his last remark, Hoffmann himself has apparently changed in the course of the narrative and spatial variations. Because the next time we see him park, he returns to his car and drives it back and forth through the mud in the parking lot. What we have seen so far has apparently resulted in a wordless understanding between them. Hoffman is literally creating precisely the work for the beggar that he otherwise has ordered him not to do, and he even follows the work from his office through his binoculars, making sure that the beggar has understood the message.
Repeated space is never the same
Then follows the definitive reversal of their mutual relation. That day, Herr Hoffmann has accidentally run out of change, and cannot routinely give it to the beggar. The situation on the sidewalk is broken down into quite another montage than the earlier meetings. The camera stays with Hoffman and follows his search through pockets and wallet. He finds only a hundred-mark note. Instead of the other, relatively simple meeting scenes, this one is a combination of close-ups, long shots, shot-reverse shots, and cuts on eye line matches. But instead of either explaining his predicament to the beggar – or giving him 100 marks – the situation develops into a game of hide-and-seek, with Hoffmann trying to escape unseen by hiding behind other people in the street.
Herr Hoffmann hurries to his car, the beggar sees him and tries to follow him, only to get behind the car as Hoffmann gets in and backs out, accidentally hitting him. Even at this moment he dares not meet him; instead, he literally drives away and out of the common space they in a way have built around themselves. And of course he cannot find the man after this incident. When he leaves his office the next day, for the first and only time, the beggar's spot in front of the building is shown through a subjective point-of-view shot from Herr Hoffmann's viewpoint, another radical variation compared to the cinematic practice of the other meetings. Finally, at the point when they cannot meet, the situation is described through the protagonist's eyes, and the emptiness has the earlier situations built- in.
His search by car during the last scene of the film, mirroring his arrival at the beginning, does not bring their old meeting back. Although he finds the beggar – and tries to give him, not change but one of the 100-mark notes – the beggar turns away and leaves. This time the visual variation shows a confrontation in close-ups. The cup, hands, feet, mark note, and faces in extreme close-ups give perhaps the most intense moment of editing in the film. From this variation of the visual theme I have tried to follow, the film turns to the ultimate reversal of the visual pattern of their meetings; the beggar turns his back on his former benefactor, walks away and disappears in the crowd of the metropolis. Hoffmann, in a plan americain, puts his money in his pocket, and is left immobile in a static shot, in direct opposition to his movement in the car at the beginning. Unnoticed by anyone in the crowd, he can only passively see the beggar disappear.
The cinematic space that articulates their story is made up of a series of repetitions, but as I have said, this space is shown with many variations. On the one hand, it is repeated, but the variations and the elements of time embedded in the concept of repetition itself make the space – another space. Repeated space is thus not just the same, it is also a result of the workings of time in and between the changes and variations. These are the dynamics from which Kleingeld can profit.
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