Filmmaker Johan Kramer finds inspiration in the financial crisis.
Max Christern | Sept/Oct 2009 issue
A Japanese woman walks two dogs along a winding path in a well-groomed park. The dogs sniff around the bushes as the woman walks patiently behind, plastic bags in hand, ready to clean up after them. This scene is from The Crisis and Us, the new film from Dutch film director Johan Kramer (photo), who previously gained international acclaim with The Other Final, about a soccer match between Bhutan and Montserrat, the two lowest-ranked teams at the time, and Sing for Darfur, about the tragedy in Sudan. If you saw only the images—shot in black and white using eight-millimeter film with grainy and nostalgic qualities that create a nearly dreamlike intimacy—you’d wonder what was happening. Who is the woman in the park? How long has she had the dogs? What are their names?
The stories, written by Kramer, answer all those questions, which had moved Kramer more than a year ago to launch an experiment in which he filmed everyday situations that struck a chord and were inspired by chance: people on the street, encounters in the park, the view of an office building from a hotel room.
On Monday, September 15th, 2008—which the media dubbed “Black Monday”—the American banking giant Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy and the global financial crisis became a reality. Kramer knew right away that this would be the topic of his next film: the crisis that would affect the everyday affairs of ordinary people across the globe. The result is a lovely film comprising 38 portraits of people from all over the world. Combined, these stories create an image of what the crisis is doing to us. Using voice-overs by the fantastic David Saire, a British actor, and the music of Tom Holkenborg, aka. Junkie XL, a Dutch performer who rose to world fame as a remixer, Kramer calls the result “a film that is really for your ears.”
According to him, the stories show the ways you can look at the crisis. “It’s not difficult to make a very gloomy, pessimistic film about this experience,” Kramer says. “But I’m curious what we can learn from it. I think it forces us to take a different path, which is why there’s also a lot of optimism in this film.”
The stories, often based on newspaper reports, make the audience chuckle, thanks to the hilarious situations Kramer describes—like the woman walking her dogs in the park. She’s married to a Japanese banker who consistently overworks himself and is afraid he’ll lose his job due to the crisis. His wife’s desire for a child is continually put off because he works 16-hour days. She wants a divorce and, in an act of revenge, gets two dogs she calls Kiniu and Kiki. These two words, spoken in succession, mean “financial crisis,” which drives her husband crazy. Thanks to the dogs, which symbolize her longing for a child, she’s ultimately able to divorce. So the story goes: Kramer’s story.
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