Natalie Gravenor | Sunday August 3rd, 2014
Hans Narva is the nom de guitar of bassist Torsten Müller-Fornah, veteran of such beloved bands as East Berlin art punks Herbst in Peking and medieval-industrial rockers Inchtabokatables as well as Crack Collective, an innovative pairing of sound art with melancholy sprechgesang. Hans Narva combines the German everyman first name with a reference to the well-known GDR electrical lighting manufacturers which numbers among the select group of brands that managed to continue after the Wende with great success. (Narva actually stands for Nitrogen, Argon, Vacuum, the lamps’ main components.). Hans Narva, too, found acclaim and respect in post-1989 Germany while asserting his identity as someone who was socialized, or rather anti-socialized in the GDR. Then and now, Narva’s idealism and non-conformity have clashed with the powers that be.
When recounting his multiple run-ins with the law for reasons ranging from “planned republic flight” and subversive behavior to repeated drunk driving without a license, his visions for a better world and observations of changes in reunified Berlin, Narva is a likeable, funny and intelligent storyteller. So director Claudia Lehmann (a polymath with a doctorate in physics who went on to direct a studio produced adaptation of Juli Zeh’s novel “Schilf”) wisely largely just let Narva talk in her documentary HANS IM GLÜCK (Berlin Playground). The film also features tough, yet supportive words from the likes of former Herbst in Peking bandmate Rex Joswig, Hans’ attempts to bond with his son and a surreal encounter with Narva’s estranged mother. The film’s structure and suspense is provided by Narva’s upcoming trial and fear he might go to jail for his traffic violations and substance abuse issues (he was imprisoned before, as a 15 year-old for political reasons). He hopes that going to therapy will assuage the judges into letting him off on probation. The sessions with the therapist shown in the film reveal both doctor and patient going through the motions while playing their roles.
What keeps Narva from going over the edge is music, and the film includes rehearsal and performance footage. Narva’s current band, Hands Up – Excitement! (other members include Claudia Lehmann, Inchtabokatables frontman Robert Beckmann and actor August Diehl) plays muscular yet playful art rock using folk, postpunk and experimental instrumentation. HANS IM GLÜCK is a music documentary that explores the musician’s darker side, matter of factly, without lurid morbidity but with mordant humor.