“What to Do in Case of Fire?” (2001) opens with a montage of young anarchist squatters fighting police, making propaganda films, and constructing a homemade bomb in Berlin circa 1987. They plan to blow up a vacant mansion but the bomb is a dud, until thirteen years later when it injures a real estate broker and potential buyer in a fluke accident.
Only two of the original members of the anarchist collective, Tim and Hotte, are still squatting in the same communal housing since the 80s and are unable to prevent police from confiscating filmed evidence in a raid triggered by the bomb incident. Because all members of the collective are potentially linked to the bombing, Tim and Hotte scramble to track down former comrades and formulate an action plan before the evidence is examined. The reunion of old friends, including those who’ve settled into traditional family life or sold out for corporate jobs, stirs up a host of interpersonal conflicts which they must resolve in order to work together to remain free.
Though the film does at times seem to fall back on lazy stereotypes of anarchists, it at least puts them in a human light. Even less radical viewers could relate to certain struggles the protagonists are faced with, such as trying to balance freedom and security, being “successful” versus upholding one’s ideals, and coming to terms with friendships that change over time. It would have been interesting had the film delved deeper into Berlin’s anarchist and squatters movements, in my opinion, but it’s nevertheless a charming and fun mix of comedy, drama and heist genres.
Note: to activate English subtitles on the video, click on the Closed Captions (CC) icon on the bottom right corner while video is playing, click on the box that says “Portuguese (Brazil)”, click “Translate Captions”, click on “Afrikaans”, then you should be able to scroll down until you can click on “English”. The subtitle feature might not be available on some portable devices.