That such a thoroughly modern piece of art could cause slow-burning collective shock... should please anyone with concerns of the future of humanity. That it should be a B-movie set in near future Germany made with only ten thousand Euros should warm the cockles of the romantic hearth. So: this near-future Germany then, where people are getting nostalgic for old things and playing with modern technology, much like us, here, now; but they do this so much that a collective short-term memory loss takes hold. Heads filled with dreams of future technologies (we see social networking ear-pieces and fleshy interfaces instead of keyboards) and sharpened memories of ephemeral history (a gameshow called Pop AD! in which contestants reel off huge lists of the pop charts in 1983, or dialogue from popular sitcoms) mean that slowly the country becomes aware that practical details of recent days slip from view. It starts with small things, like keys being lost, doors left open, and proceeds to a state where people cannot remember the way to the school their child goes to, or even cannot remember their child. Banks begin to fall apart because administrative skills are all but forgotten; panicked individuals wander the streets, not knowing who they are, reciting a list of Best Actress Oscar winners (and nominees) from 1926 onwards, for comfort.
The hero, played by Kurt Hauser, (who famously starred alongside David Bowie in Lindsay Anderson's Mime in 1973, and so by appearing here brings flashing memories to the surface of the audience) devises strategies to help him try to remember his wife, whose whereabouts he cannot decipher. A computer expert, he builds a keyboard with actors and pop stars faces instead of letters on the keys, which brings him to the attention of a secret underground group collating a Memory Advancement Database (M.A.D.) which aims to collect real-life memories. 'Without MAD, there is nothing' the boss of the organisation tells Hauser.
Gestern... was a remake of Sehnsucht (Nostalgia), which was made by Fritz Lang in 1930, and remade in 1935 in Hollywood by Lang himself. This first remake, titled Nostalgia and starring Henry Fonda, was a minor success. Since the success of Gestern... a band of fans of the Lang versions have gathered on the internet claiming that they can find remakes of the movie every year since its release; some even claim to find the original story in both The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Bible. Thinker Roland Barthes described the story as 'the only one ever told; but we have always forgotten it as soon as it passes through our ear canals, which profess to listen but are instead waterways filled with refuse and abandoned shopping carts'1
Dieter Buchmann himself has a mysterious past, with lists of film credits speculative at best. It is believed that he was the writer/director (listed as Dietmar Baumann) of Time-Traveller (1994), in which Ralph Macchio, after being told by a clairvoyant that he will become a war criminal and perpetrate mass genocides (and that, if he kills himself to stop this he will become a martyr and even more will die to honour his name), travels back in time to kill his own father, prevent his own birth, and thus prevent multiple organism deaths. He discovers that the much-used narrative device of changing the past to alter the future isn't true- he kills his father, but is still born in the future, but with a taste for blood from birth. (The tagline for the film was 'Man Builds Time Machine. Man Goes Back In Time To Kill His Father. Nothing Happens').
Naturally, Gestern Ist Nicht Dort was forgotten by everyone immediately, except by those few who could recite every line perfectly. Its warnings, whatever they were, remain more relevant than ever, I'm sure.
Gestern Ist Nicht Dort Directed by Dieter Buchmann Produced by Stefan Ardnt Written by Dietmar Baumann Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics Release Date: UK/Germany April 2001, US Feb 2002 Tagline: 'Where Ist My Mind?'
1. The Way It Wasn't by Roland Barthes, published by Hill & Wang, 2004