With procedural precision and a bold blend of dramatic reenactments and news interviews, filmmaker-video artist Mario Pfeifer’s Again examines the events leading up to and following a Kurdish immigrant’s death in the Saxony region of Germany three years ago. The man, a 21-year-old refugee from Iraq named Schabas Saleh Al-Aziz, had been living in the European country for a couple of years prior to his tragic passing, moving from one medical and social institution after another as a result of his neurological condition — his frequent epileptic seizures that had compounded his sense of disorientation or dislocation (which many asylum seekers and migrant communities experience outside their homelands). Adopting the polished, blue-steel aesthetics of a crime thriller, Pfeifer shows Al-Aziz’s fateful run-in with four local residents of Arnsdorf inside a supermarket, where the foreigner, agitated over a faulty phone card, is forcibly removed (after appearing to threaten the cashier), beaten up, and eventually tied to a tree. The four men, celebrated by several members of the community as well as far-right politicians for their “civil courage,” are representative of a mindset that has taken hold there and in other countries around the world; including here in the United States, where vigilante justice often takes aim at racial minorities and other vulnerable groups in the name of securing national borders or enforcing law and order through (ironically) unlawful means. Besides including video footage of the actual event inside the supermarket (shot on a bystander’s cellphone), the director stages those tense scenes within a theatrical setting where two reality TV-style “hosts” (played by actors Mark Waschke and Dennenesch Zoudé) ask a small group of audience members to reflect on what they have just witnessed. As an ad-hoc jury of sorts, these onlookers weigh in with their feelings about the failures of the German judiciary to hold the four men accountable for their crime (after the controversial case against them was quickly dismissed by a judge), and — as citizens who immigrated to Germany years ago — share stories of their own encounters with xenophobia in the “Land of Milk and Honey.” “How would you have reacted?” asks one of the co-hosts near the end of this short yet weighty docudrama. It is a question that, rhetorically engrained in all human rights cinema, is directly broached here as a means of prompting our own speculations about the definition of “courage” and the role that citizens play in standing up to intolerance and ensuring that the injustices of the past do not occur again.
– By David Scott Diffrient
(German with English subtitles)