Florian Cossen film 311.
(photo credit: courtesy)
‘THE DAY I WAS NOT BORN’
Written and directed by Florian Cossen, 95 minutes
In German and Spanish
Check theaters for subtitle information ‘
When the ulpan teacher started singing ‘Ooga, ooga, ooga’ [cake, cake, cake], it clicked,” says Florian Cossen, the director of the acclaimed new German-Argentinean feature film The Day I Was Not Born, which opened on April 14 in theaters around the country.
He is talking about an experience he had in a Montreal Hebrew classroom that gave him the idea for the central moment in his film. Cossen, the son of a German diplomat, was born in Israel and lived here until age four, when his family was stationed here.
Years later, when he was studying Hebrew in Canada, his stubborn teacher
insisted he must remember something of the songs he learned in
preschool. “But although she sang very, very loudly and I was
embarrassed, I didn’t remember anything – until she sang that one song.
And then I did know the words.
I got to thinking about how the memory and identity can be triggered…
The memory doesn’t come vaguely. It clicks and it’s there.”
After a screening of the film at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, Cossen, 30,
talked about how he got the idea for his film, which tells the story of
Maria (Jessica Schwarz), a German competitive swimmer who by chance
ends up in the Buenos Aires airport.
There she hears a mother singing a Spanish lullaby to her baby and is shocked that she knows all the words.
This brings on a panic attack, and she feels she must spend time in
Argentina. When her father appears in Buenos Aires, the secret of her
origins – she was the child of two of the “disappeared” political
prisoners in the late 1970s and early 1980s – is revealed. The rest of
the film focuses on how Maria copes with this strange, bittersweet news
about her identity and forges a tentative relationship with her
Cossen got the idea for the film when a trip he took to Argentina
coincided with an official day of sorrow marking the 30-year anniversary
of the coup that put a dictatorship into power.
“I became interested in this subject, and I learned that there were more
than 500 cases of the children of those who disappeared being kidnapped
and given for adoption.
There were cases of those children ending up in Europe. What was
interesting from my perspective was the thought of a person around my
age, thinking he or she was European, and then learning she had
something to do with a crime she didn’t even know about,” he says.
He doesn’t deny that this is a subject that has particularly significant
resonance for a young German. “We grew up and learned to live with
secrets,” he says. “A lot of German men are not emotionally that open.”
While Cossen’s own grandfather never confided in Cossen’s father, eventually he did open up to the curious young director.
“My grandfather was in a Russian prison during the war. When certain
memories were too intense and painful, he’d say, ‘It’s enough for
today.’” He remembers how different his perspective on life was from his
grandfather’s, a conflict that is mirrored in the schism between the
heroine in the film and her father.
“My grandfather and I got into a fight when I told him about going to my
first concert. It was a Bruce Springsteen concert with 52,000 people,
and I was thought it was so great. And he said it’s not cool to go to a
concert with 50,000 people. He thought of a mass gathering like that as a
big propaganda tool. What hounds my grandfather most is having believed
in the wrong thing at 19.”
In the course of his research, Cossen came across a young Argentinean
woman who learned that her own father had been a torturer for the
military dictatorship. “It was the opposite to the story I ended up
telling. But this woman changed her name. She couldn’t stand the idea
that someone might hear it and remember torture. I heard so many
emotional stories. There were cases similar to the one we described in
the movie, but it isn’t based on a single case but a combination of
several. I heard of a guy who grew up in England and then found out he
was from Argentina and went there. He learned he was a year and a half
older than he had thought,” says Cossen.
The ages of these adopted children were sometimes changed on documents to comply with bureaucratic rules, he explains.
“It’s a hugely disorienting experience not just to learn you are not the
nationality you thought you were, but to learn you are a different age.
This guy said, ‘I started this trip when I was 26, now I’m going back
28, but I was never 27.’” Cossen, who says his next film will be a black
comedy, has lived all over the world due to his father’s career and got
to know Buenos Aires well during the shooting of the film. “It becomes
this place full of light and personality. It isn’t just where the story
takes place, but it’s also a character.”
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