QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM TALLINN
Is Germany finally having a reckoning around race? The classic text Berlin Alexanderplatz (Burhan Qurbani, 2020) was reimagined for the immigrant generation, then Mr Bachmann and His Class (Maria Speth, 2021) sensitively told the story of a German teacher managing a class full of second-generation children in a rural part of the country. Now we have Precious Ivie from Sarah Blaßkewietz, a tender and powered exploration of mixed-racial identity that shows Germany’s difficulty in becoming a truly multikulti society.
I live in Germany myself and notice the awkward ways so-called liberals even in cities such as Berlin talk about racism. While the country’s own anti-semitic past is dealt with frankly, conversations around its Black citizens are still littered with stereotypes and mischaracterisations. Precious Ivie dives straight into it when the titular, mixed-race protagonist (Haley Louise Jones) interviews for a teaching position and shuts down when asked about where’s she’s really from. White Germans might not see the problem with such a question; for Afro-Germans it reinforces their difference from mainstream society.
It’s the kind of topic that’s been explored a lot in British TV — think the brilliant May I Destroy You (Michaela Cole, 2020) or the Small Axe (Steve McQueen, 2020) project — but remains something of a taboo topic in Germany. It’s something Ivie herself, living in the internationally-positioned but provincially-minded city of Leipzig, doesn’t try to think about too much, even brushing off her friend Anne’s (Anne Haug) use of the word “brownie” as a term of endearment. Nothing malicious is meant by it, but it’s the kind of thing that white people might not recognise can be harmful.
Which is all to say that Precious Ivie is an important debut by Blaßkewietz, herself Afro-German, that uses a melodramatic form to explore issues of identity, belonging and sisterhood. The story feels like something out of an Pedro Almodóvar film, Ivie forced to think about her relationship to her Black Senegalese father when her darker-skinned half-sister Naomi (Lorna Ishema) turns up out of the blue from Berlin. Having no idea who her father really was, the two sisters navigate what it means to be Black in a majority-white country.
If it feels like a heavy topic, Blaßkewietz has a great naturalist approach to everyday scene construction, crafting the inner lives of both women. The dialogue flows naturally, often showing characters not being able to say exactly what they mean or changing their minds mid-flow. She has also takes great care to sketch out how Ivie and Naomi’s experiences differ; while the light-skinned Ivie faces more passive-aggressive discrimination, the darker Naomi sees herself as the victim of genuine racist abuse.
But there are also many moments of genuine joy and friendship, as well as the potential for romance. A meet-cute on the bus between Ivie and a handsome white man is especially well handled, as well as Naomi’s burgeoning lesbian side, making me want to see the same director handle an outright romantic comedy. We get a true sense of these characters and want to hang out with them more, many plotlines frustratingly feeling unfulfilled by the time the credits roll around. Because of this emotional connection we have to the characters, once it moves into weepie territory it feels completely hard-earned. Here’s hoping it has a wide release in Germany and can open up fresh conversations about race in the country.
Precious Ivie plays in the First Feature section of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, running from 12-28th November.