Moral ist immer das, worum es im Kino geht,
aber die Filme selbst sollten nicht moralische
Positionen untermalen und propagieren, sondern
darstellen, so wie sie in den Menschen existiert
und in den Systemen, denen sie folgen.—Christian Petzold
The Ethical Turn
As Thomas Elsaesser has argued recently, European cinema since the end of the Cold War foregrounds ethical, rather than directly political, concerns. For Elsaesser, who refers to a body of work that ranges from Fatih Akin to Michael Winterbottom, from Dogville to the Dardennes Brothers, this is a cinema that largely foregoes offering political solutions to the tensions its central characters experience. Even on the occasions when its focus expands beyond the personal narratives of the protagonists, when its stories address “spaces to be redistributed, and power-relations to be re-negotiated,” it remains, for Elsaesser, primarily an ethical rather than a political cinema. Elsaesser argues that many recent films address a radical encounter with the other, an event that brings with it the risks of violence and of a process of destabilization, yet also opens up the possibility of a genuinely new social awareness.
Elsaesser's account of contemporary cinema rests on categories proposed by the French philosopher Jacques Rancière. Rancière's work has been taken up recently across a number of disciplines, from political philosophy to literary and film studies. Rancière's work is of particular significance for an analysis of the contested areas of contemporary thought where questions of politics, ethics, and aesthetics merge.