Comparing This & That: “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” vs. “Christiane F.”

Tiffany'schristiane

 

Chalk and cheese, you might say. Or speed and bacon, if you’re Spanish. But actually, there are solid grounds on which to compare and contrast these two movies. I think most people are well acquainted with Blake Edwards’ 1962 classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s, adapted from a story by Truman Capote which I haven’t read so I can’t say that it’s inferior or different or superior or identical. (But I bet the book’s better). And it was hard for me to write the word “classic” without bunny ears in this case. En fin. Christiane F. was made in 1981 by Uli Edel and is also considered a classic with a cult following.

 

OK, so that’s something they have in common. They’re both classics. Breakfast at Tiffany’s is what they call a romantic comedy. Christiane F is a harrowing drama. The former is centred around a fancy jeweller’s on Fifth Avenue, New York and the latter mostly happens in the toilets of a Berlin Railway Station. You couldn’t find a bigger contrast.

 

Christiane (the eponymous heroine) and Holly Golightly (the girl who has her breakfast looking at the window of Tiffany’s) are both prostitutes. This is never dwelt on, in either film, but it’s how each girl acquires money in order to obtain heroin (Christiane) or Little Black Dresses (Holly). Both accept the need to submit themselves to men, to satisfy their own material cravings. Christiane and her (rather moronic) boyfriend Detlev hate each other for prostituting themselves but have no self-control and therefore no self-esteem. Holly seems to be in denial about how she makes a living and boyfriend Paul aka Fred is no position to bring this up as he is being “kept” by a mysterious woman.

 

Christian’s addiction is portrayed with exquisite gruesomeness. The film is never moralizing or maudlin. We see a 14-year old girl sink into the world of drug abuse in as much detail as it takes to tell a good story, (the true story of this girl in fact), but no more. The atmosphere is sordid and stomach churning because it has to be so.

 

Holly has what would be called today “an immature relationship with alcohol”. Her dependency is brushed over (it’s a comedy, remember) and her deliberately getting blind drunk is considered to be perfectly OK. Why wouldn’t it be OK for Christine to shoot up outside Tiffany’s on Fifth Avenue, I wonder? Oh, that’s right, that dangling needle dripping with blood… Christiane vomits in anguish and sinks deeper; Holly laughs off her hangover and lives another day.

 

Holly “is saved” by Paul. Detlev can do nothing for Christiane and dies from an overdose. Amazingly, Christiane lives to tell the tale.

 

Music plays a central role in both films. Take your pick: Henry Mancini or David Bowie. Breakfast in Tiffany’s features that well-known song Moon River, a lonesome ditty which leaves me cold. Christiane F.’s soundtrack is a collection of Bowie songs from the albums Low, Heroes and Lodger. We actually see Christiane at a Bowie concert in the film.

 

Dann sind wir Helden is kind of a lot more moving than the rainbow’s end, my huckleberry friend…

Christiane is played by Nadja Brunkhorst, in her first ever role. As such, her performance is raw, pure, natural, genuine, authentic and frightening. Holly Golightly is played by Audrey Hepburn, whose performance is anything but. I’m not an Audrey Hepburn fan but in the case of Breakfast at Tiffany’s I think it’s the unfathomably corny script that makes her performance so shoddy. The director presumably thought, “We’ll just dress her up nice, give her a telescopic cigarette holder and get her to wear that bland smile”. And it works. Breakfast … is many people’s favourite movie and AH’s supposedly sophisticated characterization of Holly is a 20th century icon.

Antonio de Felipe's Audrey is everyone's

Antonio de Felipe’s Audrey is everyone’s

Imagine Antonio de Felipe painting Christiane… it doesn’t bear thinking about!

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