The new German streaming release Casting has the air of the kind of project that might have emerged twenty years ago under the Dogme banner. It's a brisk, self-contained comedy - 91 minutes, set almost entirely within the confines of one rehearsal studio - shot handheld on digital, the better to capture the wriggles of a tight-knit ensemble improvising their way through a series of awkward situations. Rather than remake Fassbinder's The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant - a possibility that must have been discussed in idealess production offices over the past thirty years - writer-director Nicolas Wackerbarth has understood there might be more mileage in making a movie about the kind of issues that might come up while remaking The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant. So he runs a string of highly strung actresses through these sets, each of whom sees something of themselves in the title role (a nightmare, as you can imagine); he throws in a blokey retired actor, Gerwin (Andreas Lust), determined to convert his line-running gig into a full-blown comeback; and he notes a schism opening up between the project's impatient producer Ruth (Milena Dreissig) and indecisive director Vera (Judith Engel). Around the halfway mark, you may find yourself with a newfound sympathy for the methods of the notoriously tyrannical Fassbinder: the film-within-the-film is a project that sorely needed someone to march on set with a loaded handgun and tell everyone to put their feelings back in the box, shut the fuck up, and get on with making the goddamned picture. Wackerbarth is also aware that this isn't a terribly 21st century way of making movies.
The risk is that it's the German equivalent of inside-baseball - and I dare say you'd be at a further disadvantage if you were unaware of the original film and the imbalances of power it described. Yet casually, unflashily - in a functional, no-nonsense manner one hesitates to label Teutonic - Casting begins to mine rich handfuls of truth: about the haphazard nature of creation, egos on film sets, the place of older women in this industry, the tendency of certain men to impose themselves where'er they stomp. This isn't a comedy that uses a big drumroll to signal its jokes; instead, something or other in its passing parade of snubs and humiliations tempts you into wry chuckles of recognition. (I liked Gerwin's attempts to pass himself off as bisexual so as to land the role of Petra's lover, thwarted after he uses the unmistakably hetero phrase "I've never nailed it down" to describe his sexuality.) It's at its most Dogme-like/Fassbinder-ish in the rigorous attention paid to these performers; Wackerbarth, too, strips back any fripperies so as to better concentrate on the day-to-day business of performance. His thesis is that casting is a matter of shuffling through different combos of actors until you land the right, compelling chemistry, illustrated via a couple of back-end scenes that prove properly spiky and unpredictable, suspended midway between hilarity and heartbreak. If the whole doesn't look like much at first, then, it quickly layers up into a comedy that sets the brain whirring - either to wonder what a pendant-movie about the making of Casting would look like, or to consider who on earth Wackerbarth must have worked with to have come up with dingbat characters such as these.
Casting is now streaming via Curzon Home Cinema and Amazon Prime.