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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Haute ‘Couture’ high fun

    The fashion industry comprises either the most esoteric or the most asinine group of people alive. Fashion designers — on a quarterly basis — unveil products that make absolutely no sense to 98 percent of the world. More people wind up scratching their heads than applauding a new outfit. Something that the fashionistas call brilliant is probably just a garbage bag with really expensive puffy paint on it. To be frank, everything going on inside the world of runways is almost always relentlessly unimportant.

    However, when freedom is rationed to a hungry populace, fashion can be more than important; it can be necessary.

    Marco Wilms’ “”Comrade Couture”” explores a time when the subversive world of underground fashion hid in apartments and hollowed out shelters during the decade preceding the fall of the Berlin Wall.

    Wilms, an ex-model in the German Democratic Republic, set out to chronicle both the existence of counter-culture modeling under the oppressive regime in East Germany, as well as his own mission to restage a fashion show of that time with prominent members of the underground.

    In what could very easily become an inside joke of a film, “”Couture”” does a great job of catering to those not familiar with the fashion industry, much less East Germany. With anecdotes about pubic hair stylists, the brutality of the Stasi officers and filming fashion travelogues on a nude beach, the narrative addresses the far-reaching application of fashion within the lives of its subjects.

    Wilms’ labor of love is kept afloat by its tremendous heart. The reverence projected on the movement from Wilms and his compatriots is deeply affecting. Heavily nostalgic, the film manages never to enter the territory of melodrama. Instead, there lies genuine desire for a time oft maligned.

    East Germany has never been glamorized for its freedom or its sympathy to innovation. When Wilms’ subjects muse about the ecstasy they felt during those secretive days, the paradox shatters many notions about the glory of freedom. Such thought-provoking instances are constant, as “”Couture”” suggests that, perhaps, without something to fight against, there remains little to fight for.

    Therein lies the greatest strength of “”Couture”” — its ability to lend inarguable importance to the movement. The underground fashion movement of East Germany was more  “”Fight Club”” than GQ. It was a way to have a voice when such an idea was illegal.

    Credit Wilms for expressing this point early and often in “”Couture,”” while never making the movement or its members out to be accessories or gimmicks. He presents wildly eccentric individuals in starkly human situations, never allowing the physical perception of a subject overshadow his persona.

    As a storyteller, Wilms is superb. His direction seamlessly merges the past and the present so as to suggest not a rebirth but a continuation of ideals. His stock footage and old photographs do more than just add context, they enrich the film’s thematic endeavors through visual allusion. For a documentary, “”Couture”” is exceptionally engrossing, with dynamic characters and complex narrative structure. It rarely feels staged, eschewing a simple plot for several arcs that coalesce in the finale.

    “”Comrade Couture”” defies expectations consistently, providing a unique look into the role of fashion more than an accessory to one’s life. For some, it is all they have.

    After watching “”Couture,”” I can’t blame them.

    Plays:

    Sunday April 18

    7:30 p.m.

    Crossroads Cinema

    Wednesday April 21

    5:30 p.m.

    The Screening Room

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