Rhys Handley Sheffield Doc/Fest

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2019: Property review

★★☆☆☆

For six years, director Matthias Lintner lived in one of Berlin’s last squatter communities with a handful of absurd and colourful characters for neighbours. Clinging onto the last remnants of a bygone way of life, his film Property is as much a lament as it is a musing on what it truly means to live somewhere.

Squatting had its heyday during the glory days of nightclub culture in the 80s and 90s, and some of Lintner’s neighbours are among the last ones bearing the torch in the 21st century – occupying the disused estate and rudimentarily building their own worlds separate from the rapidly evolving city around them.

However, there’s a sense that the pursuit is ultimately hollow, perhaps best encapsulated in one particular resident who paints slapdash murals and makes philosophical pretensions as to why he must play his drum N bass at full volume all hours of the night. It’s clear that some of the occupants of this last bastion are middle-class pretenders who left behind comfortable existences to co-opt a life of squalor and are now crying foul as gentrification and regeneration takes it from them.

Conversations at barbecues and parties are rife with empty ‘Berlinisms’ about identity and purpose which fall flat in their vagary, while a number of incidents, exchanges and images staged to appear spontaneous are unfortunately blatant in their construction.

It’s a shame because Lintner is a gifted filmmaker with a knack for composition and cinematic form, such as in the opening crane shot which steadily tracks through the debris and disparate knick-knacks of the estate’s courtyard to find Lintner himself forlornly tinkling on an ageing piano. He has a talent for the artful, with many individual shots and moments soaked in the effusive pain of losing one’s home, but Property’s best moments suggest Lintner has potential as a fictional storyteller that is undermined by his attempts to capture the real or to moralise.

A selection of interesting characters pass through the piece, such as the wayward punk girl running from suburban boredom or the elderly, childlike Herr Pieper who has lived in the squat long before the practice was widespread and clings to a dust-stricken collection of dolls as his world crumbles around him. By inserting himself into the film as an affable, but cynical, straight man, though, Lintner ultimately undoes his efforts to elicit sympathy in these tragic figures.

Property is artful and evocative, yes, but its sentimentality for a way of life that passed like any other bourgeois fad while gentrification continues to devastate genuinely disadvantaged and deprived communities who, unlike Lintner and many of his neighbours, have little choice in the matter.

Sheffield Doc/Fest takes place from 6-11 June. To see the full programme and to buy tickets visit sheffdocfest.com

Rhys Handley | @RhysHandley2113