Bartek Konopka’s Rabbit á la Berlin (Mauerhase) is a tongue-in-cheek allegory on post-WW2 in Germany. The 40-minute short blurs the boundaries between documentary and fiction (just like Stories We Tell and Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?)—it is unrealistically serious and blatantly sarcastic at the same time. In this aspect, the movie reminds of Werner Herzog’s work, which is always hard to classify. But Konopka’s decision to use animals as a metaphor for humans in historical Germany is similar to Art Spiegelman’s Maus, a post-modern graphic novel based on real-life events in World War 2.
Bartek Konopka Interview about Rabbit á la Berlin
The director said the film crew found only four or five rabbit shots for the film, and the rest they had to “imagine how it was. […] It was nice because it was like in the fiction.”
I realized during the making of this film that rabbits are not very humo[rous] animals. […] They are quite serious, I believe. Which is also good because when you look at the faces you can think that they are also thinking something. They know something about us which we don’t know.
As a Pole who experienced the socialist regime, Konopka probably best explains the allegory of the rabbits with himself:
I feel myself as a rabbit. And I know that many people around me feel themselves psychologically as a rabbit. So […] for me it was like a mission, you know, to speak on behalf of the rabbits people.
The rabbits in Konopka’s film learn to adjust to their confined existence between the two walls of DDR, and then 28 years later are faced with the just as novel concept of freedom.
Films such as Good Bye, Lenin! and The Lives of Others have told the story of post-WW2 Germany, but Konopka emphasizes a unique point of view on a familiar subject:
Sometimes it is worth to tell a well-known story, but from a completely different angle.
The Visual Style of Rabbit á la Berlin
Just like Chris Marker’s experimental La Jetee, Rabbit á la Berlin uses still photographs to tell its story, although Konopka’s zoom-ins and zoom-outs are more prominent and numerous. As a time travel story, La Jetee’s use of still photography has philosophic implications, but in both films the stillness of the images evokes a sense of historicity and past. Aside from marking past time, the still images in La Jetee directly emphasize the movie’s themes, while in Rabbit á la Berlin they are more of a stylistic attribute. Both films use black-and-while images, and Mauerhase adds filters and vintage elements such as black strips to suggest historicity. Similar to Sarah Polley’s use of filters in Stories We Tell to distinguish different dimensions, Mauerhase’s scenes after the collapse of the Berlin Wall are colorful and visually reflect the radical change of environment in Germany.
Key for the film’s cinematography is the low camera which depicts the scenes from the point of view of the rabbits. An example is the scene of the arrival of the construction workers. The low camera angle captures only the lower part of the truck and the worker’s feet. This is the film’s most distinguishable characteristic: the ability to recycle old ideas and give them an uncanny perspective.