When it was announced that David Fincher was making The Social Network, the film about Facebook, there was many a dissenting cry. The notion that a website could offer anything of substance to narrative cinema seemed absurd to some. In reality the film proved a roaring success, with seven Academy Award nominations, a Golden Globe for best picture and $224,920,315 at the box office.
Consider then Pixelschatten – Our Life Is Online, a low budget German drama based around a fictional blog, told entirely in point-of-view shots (from the eyes of the blog’s twenty-something editor, known as Pixel) and animations resembling web comment boxes. The film tells of the social networking experience from the user’s perspective, following a group of blog obsessed friends who fall out over incendiary and overly personal postings. Perhaps the film resembles what cynics had imaged the ‘Facebook movie’ to look like.
It may not sound inspired to the unsuspecting viewer, but Pixelschatten is actually constructed with superb taste, confidence and remarkable naturalism (particularly given its subject matter). Director Anil Jacob Kunnel, shooting on what can only be described as a face-mounted-DSLR-rig, assembles an endearing cast of young German talent that work hard to reap genuine emotional investment from the audience.
We barely see Pixel (Ben Gageik) himself, as the film is told from his POV, yet Ben Gageik is clearly doing something right behind his face mounted camera. Scenes between he and girlfriend Suse (Zora Klostermann) resonate with youthful spontaneity as they go through familiar rituals of chatting, partying, having sex, falling out and making up. Kunnel shows us these many moments with intimacy, but without voyeurism.
The specific positioning of the camera rig being over the face, rather than above the head (ala GoPro mounted sport cameras) lends an increased sense of intimacy to Pixel’s interactions. It allows us to actually experience the relationship between he and Suse, as it positions us to read body language as we ourselves experience it. It also permits us, for better or for worse, to indulge in a lot of full-on snogging.
Within Kunnel’s approach to the material lies a great irony. The film set two forms of communication at counterpoint, placing the culture of online messaging next to (hugely intimate) face to face communication. We witness the frequent passive-aggressive behaviour that takes place online, and the inconsistency of modern communication as the individuals tailor their behaviour based on the alternating online/offline circumstances.
Pixelschatten is unlikely to ascertain the financial rewards of The Social Network, yet it is a similarly valid depiction of the intimate role that online communication plays in the lives of young people. With its choice ensemble and evocative digital cinematography it is an appropriately soulful depiction of a modern German youth who, in spite of their digital addiction, are very much in touch with life in all its vibrant intensity.