Following the lives of four children living in Berlin for over a year, Kinder is a gentle and picturesque depiction of youth. Containing almost no dramatic conflict, it is a sweet, yet un-engaging film that really could’ve done with more fascinating subjects. While gorgeously capturing the changing of the seasons and the natural splendour of Berlin’s surrounding countryside, lakes, and parks, the children in Kinder are almost too nice and kind to make for interesting subjects. Youth has rarely looked so fun, but this hardly makes for interesting cinema.
Our stars are Emine, Marie, Christian, and Arthur. They are between eight and eleven, go to school, and are naturally curious about the world around them. The girls like to sing and dance and role-play, while the boys are interested in graffiti, goofing around, and music. We follow them as they interact with their siblings and fellow friends, ask questions about the world, and figure out what they’re interested in. They are well-adjusted, kind, normal kids. In other words, a little boring.
Parents are almost completely absent, giving the children free reign to travel around the city and to experiment with new ideas. We see them take public transport alone, explore the vast Tempelhof field, swim in the nearby lakes, and even set off fireworks during New Years Eve celebrations. While this is a great way to get the kids to really be themselves, the ultimate effect is actually quite artificial. While German parenting is the definition of laissez-faire — letting kids as young as four and five walk to school by themselves — it’s unlikely that these kids literally live their entire lives without any adults around (part of me expected some kind of orphanage twist). It would’ve perhaps been interesting to see how they act in relationship to their parents instead of acting as if older people simply don’t exist, an element that makes this seemingly fly-on-the-wall documentary feel meticulously manipulated.
Compare this to the French documentary Young Solitude, which took teenagers in a school outside of Paris and made them talk to each other about everything under the sun. While that revealed the vulnerability of youth and living under the weight of one’s own (mostly divorced) parents, Kinder, in its adult-free world, seems to suggest that everything is just dandy. There are humorous conversations about the outside world, including one boy’s confident assertion that Donald Trump is a very stupid man, yet it doesn’t feel channeled towards anything. With presumably a lot of footage to work with, director Nina Wesemann provides a portrait that is delightful to watch — these kids are quite cute, after all — but limited in scope.
They are all connected by the ring bahn, the main train line that forms a circle around the city. Multiple shots see the kids take the train, which even during rush hour has free seats available. Compared to metropolises such as London and New York, Berlin transport is really quite wonderful, and Kinder doubles up as a great advert for the efficiency of German transport. For those who know Berlin intimately, such as myself (I even spotted where I used to live), there is little new to learn here. However, for those unacquainted with the city, it serves as a nice alternative tour guide.