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Film review: Berlin Bouncer — is it worth the hype?

David Dietl, the son of a legendary German director, wanted to make a film about Berlin’s bouncers, but something seemed to have gone very wrong.

The mighty Sven Marquardt (Photo © Flare Film GmbH)

With a simple nod bouncers can make or break a night out. Every weekend they decide which stories are going to be told afterwards; they are loved, hated, feared and adored. But there is probably only one city in the world where a bouncer can become world famous. Berlin. Thus, making a film about the bouncers of the city and the myths surrounding them makes sense. David Dietl almost did that – but then delivered Berlin Bouncer. The documentary gives insights into the private life of Berghain’s personal sphinx Sven Marquardt, King Size manager Frank Künster, and Smiley Baldwin, who came to Berlin in the late 80s and is now head of a security company. All of them experienced and shaped the wild 90s, and they’re all still working as bouncers. Which means they should have quite a few stories to tell. Sadly, the film does not really allow that. It’s about Berlin, at least a little bit, but it says nothing about the actual work of a bouncer. So, what is it actually about?

It’s hard to follow the film over its 87 minutes, as the director doesn’t give the audience any chance to connect any of the various loose threads of the three very different biographies. The camera follows photographer Marquardt when he is talking to students at the Ostkreuz school of photography, shows him talking about loneliness by the beach, or films him from the back seat of the car he is driving to Berghain.

Künster, on the other hand, we watch smearing obscene amounts of Nutella on a bread roll, and saying goodbye to King Size twice during the film (the club closed once in 2015, Künster reopened it in 2016, but it had to close down in 2017 for good). Baldwin is allowed to look back at his life and travels to the Virgin Islands with the film team, where he talks to his uncle about the cleanliness of Germany and the size of his flat, before describing his old home as a prison where only few people can break out. Cut, back to Germany. And how is it all connected?

Berlin Bouncer is no fun — it leaves the audience at a loss. Why are these three very different characters thrown into the same pot? Künster and Baldwin have at least worked at the same door — Cookies on Friedrichstraße — but that’s it. Each of the three have an interesting story to tell that could fill the 90-minute running time. But the film fails to give any coherent narrative or statement — about gentrification, about nightlife, Berlin, or the life of a bouncer.

The randomly-used archive material of raves and parties of days past doesn’t really help either. The job that unites Marquardt, Künster and Baldwin is never really a topic of the film and rather justifies its sad existence: Someone wants to make use of three people’s fame and produces one banality after the other. If Berlin Bouncer was a party-goer, it wouldn’t get past the doorman.

GER 2018, 87 minutes | Director: David Dietl, with Sven Marquardt, Frank Künster, Smiley Baldwin | Start: April 11th