“Christiane F., 13 years old, drugged and prostituted”, the film, completing 40 years of release in Brazil, reopens in cinemas and brings back the saga of a girl who shocked the world in the late 1970s. Even decades later, it continues to shock because, although it is a portrait of an era, it remains relevant, revealing the torment, the dangers and the loneliness of a particularly revolutionary but also delicate and fragile period of life: adolescence.
Before the movie, let’s go to the book that inspired it. “Christiane F., 13, Drugged and Prostituted” (Christiane F. We children from Bahnhof Zoo) is a landmark, so to speak. With realism and a raw look at the youth of Berlin in the 1970s, the book, published in 1978, was a punch in the stomach of a society that was turning a blind eye to not only social, economic, but also emotional and even existential issues, a generation living in a world of disillusionment, under the division of a Cold War that not only separated West Berlin from East Berlin, but also saw the dream of family happiness crumble in a consumer society that offered no answers to the fears and insecurities of young people who born and raised in this postmodern world.
This disillusionment was felt on every page of the book, which the journalists Kai Hermann and Horst Rieck wrote based on the testimonies of the girl Christiane Vera Felscherinow, whom they met at the age of 16 as a witness in a trial before the Berlin court. This is some time after the girl was arrested for using and dealing in illegal substances and sent by her mother to live with her grandmother and an aunt in the country. What was supposed to be a big story for Stern became a book. And what was supposed to be an (almost) ordinary book became a bestseller, selling millions of copies worldwide.
Christiane’s story is extreme, but her dreams, her curiosity, her need to belong, to be loved, her relationship and communication problems with her family, her fears, her sense of abandonment are universal and have been burned deep into the hearts and minds of adults and several generations of teenagers who have come since then.
In the plot of the film and in the time depicted in the book, she is a 13yearold girl who lives with her mother and her new husband after her parents separated and her father moved out. Her younger sister has moved in with her father and Christiane gets little attention from a mother who, despite seeming attention, spends more time outside of work and at home takes care of her husband much more than her daughter.
Christiane has her hormones and her curiosity on the brink. She wants to be loved, she wants to be noticed, she wants to have fun, she wants to belong to a group, she wants to go to the hottest 1970s nightclub in Europe, the legendary sound, she wants to experience it. On this journey so early through the Berlin night, she falls in love with the equally young Detlef, who becomes her boyfriend and who, addicted to heroin, finally introduces Christiane to this journey of no return alongside her friends. He prostitutes himself at Bahnhof Zoo (hence the German title) to support his addiction, lives with addicted friends and swears that one day he will leave the heroine. Instead, she increasingly wants to experience and feel what he feels and ends up becoming one of the BahnhofZoo youths, becomes addicted to heroin and turns to prostitution.
After the success of this book, it was only natural that a movie would follow. And in 1981 the book was filmed with the newcomer Natja Brunckhorst (then 15) and became a cult.
Translated into cinema by Uli Edel, the story of the 13yearold girl who matures and hardens long before she has reached maturity and discernment, preserving the melancholy of the pages and gaining the dimension of colors, of the concrete and nihilistic corners of Berlin , also of abandoned decade. To make it even better, the feature had the soundtrack and the presence of David Bowie to wrap up Christiane’s disappointments. The girl first tried heroin on a Bowie show she loved.
Uli Edel’s raw and bold direction, which unashamedly depicts scenes of adolescent heroin use and injections with a realism that is still shocking to this day, made the film an instant classic. At the time of its publication, not only Germany but major cities around the world were facing a massive invasion of synthetic drugs, and heroin (an opiate) was also becoming a public health problem. The problem persists today, and the number of adolescents and adults who either become addicts or die from substance abuse remains a more pressing public health concern than ever.
Uli Edel, who is also remembered for the infrequent Red Nights in Brooklyn and Body and Evidence, made Christiane F. his best film, hard, cruel but blunt and visceral. Nonetheless, “Christiane F” returns to cinemas and the agenda in a remastered, impeccable copy, ready to be discovered by new generations.