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Towards a European Postmigrant Aesthetics: Christian Petzold's Transit (2018), Phoenix (2014), and Jerichow (2008)


A contested polity and an imagined community, Europe is confronting a myriad of political, economic, and climatic shifts. Ethnographer Regina Römhild has recently argued that understanding Europe as homogeneous and clearly demarcated inaccurately conjures a truncated White entity quite distinct from that which its early founders imagined. Römhild juxtaposes a Europe traditionally, historically, and fundamentally constituted by migrancy. She shows the fundamental importance of neo/colonial entanglements, sketches Europe as part of a black Mediterranean (cp: Paul Gilroy), and explains how resistant, anti-colonial imaginations variously shape this union. In these ways and more, Europe has always already been constituted through exchange, movement, and porousness. Drawing on Römhild, I analyze Berlin School filmmaker Christian Petzold's films Transit (2018), Phoenix (2014) and Jerichow (2008) with an eye towards what I dub their postmigrant aesthetics. Drawing on sociologist Jin Haritaworn, I pay special attention to these works' commentaries on "regenerative" minorities. Further, I argue that these films also highlight limitations of the concept of postmigrant Europe. Even if historically accurate, it cannot (yet) be understood as normative, but rather aspirational, because in our real-existing Europe, power dynamics between individuals and communities inhere and continue to thwart equitable participation. Artistic production and aesthetics have especially important work to do under such circumstances; I suggest that these recent films by Petzold invite viewers to notice and (re)consider complicities in this power differential and to imagine and work toward a postmigrant Europe.

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