It rarely makes sense for the media to talk to the AfD. You can see that in the smear theater that Alice Weidel pulls off in the current ARD documentary about the leaked chat of the faction that she heads. Pretends to know nothing, only to say tight-lipped about the subversive statements: “Ultimately, that’s rhetoric that should be avoided.”
But the AfD doesn’t do that. On the contrary: it thrives on precisely this rhetoric. You can see that in Andreas Wilcke’s feature documentary film “People’s Representatives”. Interestingly, the film, like the ARD documentary about the chats, takes its starting point on the 2017 election night. In the ARD documentary, Gauland’s marching orders (“We will hunt them”) are recalled to threatening music. Wilcke’s film, on the other hand, is based on a less martial, more warning sentence from the speech: “And please no sayings that could fall on our feet later.” A ban on speaking, but one that is constitutive of the insincerity of the party.
“People’s Representatives” is a documentary work about exactly that – about the rhetoric of a party that is constantly busy communicatively denying itself and its right-wing goals. For two years, the film observes four AfD MPs – three West Germans and one man from Stralsund. And shows what AfD people say when they are not speaking into television cameras or recording devices.
Norbert Kleinwaechter is the best at demonstrating self-denial. The Brandenburg representative from Augsburg is a literary scholar, started at the WASG, speaks French and in an early speech wants to deal with Freud’s concept of the uncanny. However, he soon gets irritated with a victim speech in front of his employees, in which he, as an AfD man, is said to be on a par with witches, colonized people and Jews. Later, before a soccer World Cup match of the German men’s team, Kleinwächter lists every player who, from his point of view, is not German (“Niklas Süle is Hungarian from his father’s side”).
In this way, the rug is rolled out for the racist world views of the bunch of viewers, which Wilcke’s film carefully registers: when an Afro-German player makes a mistake, someone happily shouts “deportation”.
With its focus on language action, “Volksberater” repeatedly makes the distance between the AfD and reality visible. At a town meeting, for example, Kleinwächter wants to free himself from the “definition” as “Nazi” in a big victim pose, when the ethnically minded questioner (“Where is the original value creation?”) humorlessly interrupts the parade: “Of course we are Nazis.” The man is excitedly expelled from the hall.
Götz Frömming, a Pankow member of parliament who was born in Eutin, is also busy concealing his own thinking. As the party’s media man, he has problems with a Weidel speech for a presentation video in which the parliamentary group leader says “Your fight”: “It’s better to remove Nazi references.”
At such points one can understand from Wilcke’s observation why the AfD needs its own terms in order to maintain its own, alternative world view. It is not only the rhetorical manoeuvring, however, that is recognizable in “People’s Representatives”. In the rounds with employees, there are also statements that describe the strategy of the party. This is how ex-ARD man Armin-Paulus Hampel, who prefers to appear in a field marshal pose, answers the employee’s question as to whether he also wants to read the motions from the Left and Greens: “That’s completely unimportant. I’m concentrating on our real enemy.” And that’s the CDU, “as long as they don’t want to cooperate.”
In these moments, Wilcke’s film is smarter and clearer than most of the public debate. It also gets funny sometimes when Enrico Komning is looking for a name for his team, which is supposed to get support shirts. “Kommando Komning” seems too military to the cleverer employee, but gets his way when asked by the boss – also because he thinks the abbreviation “KoKo” is so great.
Documentary films about the AfD and their right-wing extremist friends always face the dilemma of attracting attention to a phenomenon that is solely out for it.
“People’s Representatives” is one of the more successful works. Mastering the form is crucial: Andreas Wilcke compares the material without comment, only the AfD has a say here. That was already the case in Simon Brückner’s observation “One German Party” shown at the Berlinale, which is the more elaborate and chic film compared to “People’s Representatives”. But also the undecided. Money is tighter at Wilcke, but form is stricter. And the cut helps against the fascination. At the end, when the national anthem is sung, you can not only admire Hampel’s jagged demeanor. The pathos of the song breaks the AfD by itself – through the rather pathetic singing skills of the Brandenburg troops around Kalbitz and Kleinwächter.