Das Leben ist eine Baustelle



On the way to work at the slaughterhouse, Jan Nebel ends up in a street fight. Before he knows what has happened, he has beaten up two plain-clothes policemen and has to run away into the backstreets with Vera, a beautiful woman who he has never seen before.
This night has consequences for Jan: a job loss, a big fine, stress at home. Things just could not get worse. But when Jan and Vera see each other, all problems melt away. They spend passionate hours together, cadge their way through luxurious buffets and con their way into first-class hotels. Jan, the dreamer on a job hunt and Vera, the capricious musician, they could make a perfect couple. But their happiness hangs on a thread: Jan is worried that he has Aids and Vera slips out of his bed every night without saying where she is going...

Director's Statement

Since the Wall has been knocked down, Berlin is in a state of radical change. Social problems intensify. Jobs are few and far between. Traditional values lose their meaning. The family framework is destroyed. 'Jan, Vera, Buddy and Kristina create their own sort of family where Buddy plays the part of the bigger brother', explains Becker. In no time at all, this off-beat family has problems of its own. Vera grumbles about the lack of privacy and about the alleged 'marriage shit' between her and Jan.
LIFE IS ALL YOU GET is a film about the strongest emotions felt by the man on the street, about the poetry in everyday life, about real people with real life feelings, about people without a sense of security.
For Becker and co-author Tom Tykwer it was important not just to tell a straight-forward romance but to set a love story amongst various incidental tales of destinies and alternatives. A lot of lively anecdotes support the central theme - the drama in everyday life.
LIFE IS ALL YOU GET is more than a 'boy meets girl’ story: each character in this melancholic comedy represents a destiny.
There is Jan's colleague Moni who reveals to him, one freezing cold night in front of the take-away by the slaughterhouse that she might have infected him with Aids. They meet only once more, but Jan cannot get Moni out of his head. Her story is hinted at throughout the entire film. Through TV spots about Aids, a beggar in the underground station or a hearse, Jan and the audience are constantly reminded of Moni. LIFE IS ALL YOU GET is not explicitly a film about Aids. More a film about repression: Jan is too worried to get tested although he can hardly think about anything else.
Then there is Lilo - a single mother who lives with Harri at the moment. Her daughter though does not get on with the new boyfriend. At least not as long as Jan is there. When he does not disturb the peace, the family life runs perfectly smoothly - so Lilo likes to convince herself. Maybe these three really are a happy little family, were it not that Jenni likes to play Jan up against Harri? Anyway, Lilo does not delude herself any longer about a harmonious family life since her mother left her, her father and Jan.
Lilo earns money by giving shopping parties. In her respectable flat she sells sexy underwear and other even naughtier goods to housewives. Even on the eve of Christmas, Berlin is plastered with posters advertising flimsy underwear. Besides building site cranes, advertising dominates the panorama of this city. Sex sells and consumerism is the A and 0.
But you need money for that. And who has it? The times have gone when you could climb up the career ladder and go into pension with a sense of security. Today you have to hunt after a job. And you are quicker rid of it as you think. 'We have thoroughly researched the situation of casual workers, particularly those in the slaughterhouse or fruit markets,' explains Becker. 'A lot of them live in the hope of a day's job. And when it does not work out, you’ll find them at the latest around five o'clock in the morning, in the pub around the corner'.
Apparently, only the media profit from the increasing tristesse of everyday Life. Television has now got even more channels: more colourful, Louder and dumber than ever. 'As we came up with the idea of a 'Talent box' (a box-like room with camera to talent spot amongst members of the public), it was really a sort of a joke. We had even discussed if it was over exaggerated or too unrealistic. Then all of a sudden at the city centre’s market hall, Tom is standing in front of exactly this type of a box. Reality has overtaken fiction'. The louder the world becomes, the more difficult it is to articulate, to put fears, visions and yearnings into words. Communication cannot take place. It may be that the protagonists in LIFE IS ALL YOU GET have lost the words, but they still do not have to keep quiet. Music is their means of expression, the bonding element.
Vera sings and plays accordeon, Buddy lives for rock 'n' roll just like the 'Spree Teddies'. Even Harri tra-la-las happily a melody while frying the steaks. And Jan, who cannot sing, can at least play a tune on the drinking glasses. In a revealing moment, while he enthusiastically listens to Vera's singing in a choir, he falls in love with her, and she falls in love with his tender way of playing the glasses. This is the night when they want to sleep together for the first time.

Director's Biography

Wolfgang Becker was born in Hemer, Westphalia, in 1954. He studied German philology, history and American philology at the Free University in Berlin. Then he completed a course of studies at the German Film and Television Academy (dffb). His graduation film at the academy, SCHMETTERLINGE, brought him the first attention. The adaptation of a story by the English author Ian McEwan won the Student Film Award (i.e. Oscar for the best student film) in Hollywood, the Golden Leopard of the Locarno Film Festival and also the Prize from Saarland's prime minister at the Max Ophüls Festival in 1988. After the enthusiastic reception for his TATORT episode 'Blutwurstwalzer (during which the director worked together with Jürgen Vogel for the first time), Becker shot the childhood drama KINDERSPIELE, an above average television film which was also shown in cinemas. The central theme of this film, the atomization of the family and the lack of communication amongst its members, is also touched on in LIFE IS ALL YOU GET. In 1992, he made the documentary film CELIBIDACHE.

Cast & Crew

Directed by: Wolfgang Becker

Nominations and Awards

  • Feature Film Selection 1997