Skip navigation

Category Archives: German Film

Final part of the “Paradies” Trilogy, following “Paradies: Liebe” (Love) and “Paradies: Glaube” (Faith), this is an uplifting bit of Austrian RomCom, following in the footsteps of the Peter Alexander and Hans Moser lakeside musical comedies…. Well… there is some music… the chorus of the obese kids singing “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your fat! … Clap! Clap!” It is the sound of Ulrich Seidl making Austria (but not only) look into the mirror, slapping it in the face and forcing it to look longer, to take in all the ugly details of the image.

Imagine where in the world you would least like to spend your summer holidays. If you did some research on the options, at some point you have a list with a lot of Ebola hospitals, refugee camps, Boy Scout camps and the like. Once you reach the option “Obese Teenager Diet Camp in Austria”, stop right there. It won’t get any worse. Teenage girls obsessed with losing their virginity and eating; ill-haired sports instructors intellectually rooted in Hitler Youth summer camp and Guantanmo traditions; village youth not minding the occasional public date rape; camp physician with whatever kind of problems leads one to take off your clothes and ask your patient to examine your bare chest.

As always, you will not find a nice person in the film, but at least you can – if you feel inclined – identify some traces of the problems the characters carry around (some reviewers actually criticised the film for these “cheap answers”… see what Seidl makes people do…). For those fat kids, it seems to be a routine of getting pushed away from their families, into this diet camp or that, with the usually separated parents at home quite happy about being left alone for a while. The staff working at the camp must always keep up the façade of sternness and discipline, while sometimes just wanting to be a troubled human themselves among all those troubled humans that come through their patch-up machine every year.

Those three “Paradies” films should be a monument of Austrian cinema verite, to be hopefully remembered for a long time, and I hope they will be bravely defended against critics who accuse the author of soiling the beautiful Austrian image. He is brave for doing this, and should be commended for this courage alone. In particular, he should be praised, however, for having made three spectacularly honest and incidentally absolutely splendid and thrilling films.

When a film opens with a sequence of an aging woman kneeling down in her study in front of a cross, taking off her blouse and bra and starting to whip herself while saying prayers… and when this film then carries on to present thoroughly depressing truths about ordinary people of various religious denominations… and when this film features the character of the “Travelling Mary”, a wooden statuette of Jesus’ mother who is doomed to be carried by a very annoying and deluded Christian door-to-door salesperson to astonishingly creepy everyday neighbours of hers (even though I have to give to that one neighbour that he is the one entertaining and funny bit in the whole of these three “Paradies” films… “No, my knees really do hurt, can I kneel the other way round?”) … then… welcome to the world of Ulrich Seidel!

I remember I thought (and maybe wrote) upon seeing the first part of his “Paradise” trilogy (“Liebe”, about Austrian women up for sex tourism somewhere in Africa) that what is most surprising about Seidel is his effort to like these people. I think he has given up on this now. Maybe at some point during research of Austria’s murky Christian underworld, he started weeping and told himself “My God, canst thou take them back?”

You could play the fate of the woman who leads her lonely life of home-flagellation, Mary-Carrying, crucifix-masturbation and organ-hymn-dilletantism as a cute story of warm-hearted solitude. Not here, though. For  reason that remain obscure, at one point she had taken a Muslim husband, possibly only to prove her tolerance, and she still praises the day when that husband got paralysed and impotent following an accident. This is not a nice thing to think or tell him, we believe as an audience, but then again, the wheelchair-bound husband is himself not able to take on the role of this film’s warm-hearted hero. Paralysed or not, he is a prick. Living with him (sometimes) is the other form of flagellation our heroine sometimes burdens herself with. Again, we are not so sure why she does not just kick him out, but suffers his abuse, but this is how she rolls…

This is as terrific, splendid, horrible, truthful  as cinema goes. It is also very uncomfortable to watch (even though it would be more uncomfortable if one was Austrian, I guess…). It is, strangely enough, a gripping tale, too. When I watched Brad Pitt’s tank extravaganza “Fury” a couple of days later, I checked my watch about 10 times over the course of two hours. During “Paradies: Glaube” I never even thought about how far we are in, or how long it would still go on. The way Seidl paints his portraits of the less pleasant parts of reality is as thrilling as art can be.

Hans-Christian Schmid is one of my personal favourite directors working in Germany today, one of a trio of directors telling very personal and dramatic stories without fear and with greatest skill (the other two being Christian Petzold and Andreas Dresen). “Lichter” (Distant  Lights) and “Requiem” are true highlights of the last decade in German cinema, “Sturm” also a very interesting and daring venture into a suppressed debate.

“Home For The Weekend” has all the characteristics of New German Cinema, albeit of the kind that is dealing with family and relationship, with guilt and consequences of actions. It is about a family that seems to be all right at face value, with the regular monetary troubles or the career doubts. With the children grown up, the mother decides to take a radical step, one that is very important to her, as she expects to get some quality of life back after a history of disease. What erupts is a surprising level of oposition  on part of her family, a serious distrust into her ability to make her own decisions. The family was, it seems, quite happy to have a less troublesome mother, even if they know that she was suffering. Being doubted and attacked, she feels that her family would rather see her false self, but does not want to be burdened with her true one.

All this plays in the realistic style New German Cinema is known for, without much production fuss, carried by the actors. Those are for the most part excellent, they are able to display how layer after layer of harmonious family is shed and some unpleasant truths emerge.

Without spoiling it, it seemed to me the ending is particularly cruel. Within a very short time, the husband has adjusted to a completely new situation, has changed from one way of life to another, has not even suppressed bitter memories but rather seems to see the developments as a change for the better for his and his family’s life. What is truly bitter is that he has a case, and it would be dishonest to negate that his position can be understood.

One of those very good films coming out of a very reflective generation of German film makers, not the most entertaining bit of cinema, but a very rewarding one.

Dieter Hallervorden is a legend in German comedy, not always for subtle irony, but more for straight slapstick and and in-your-face embarrassing situations. He is also a subtle observer of everyday madness, though, which he puts on stage for decades at his Berlin comedy stage. Now around 80ish, it is very interesting to see him leave behind the slapstick public image for good, but retain somehow his rebellious streak in a film about a former marathon runner who decides that life in a retirement home with people forcing you to do chestnut handicraft for half the year and singing along to Christian campfire songs for the other half is not what he had in mind for his final years.

You could play this hilarious, but director Kilian Riedhof decided to play it straight, and sad, and depressing, which works all the better because he has Hallervorden at centre stage, with his credible down-to-earth personality and the twinkle in his eyes that defies authority and saves the audience from getting put off by the sometimes bleak prospects provided.

The story is as straightforward as it can get: he decides to break out of the routine, and despite massive resistance from the institution and also his family, to run the Berlin marathon one final time, more than 50 years after his careers ended in glory. The way this plays out is well developed, with a clarity of narration and drama that cannot be found in German cinema too frequently. It has a bit of a Hollywood story arc to it, but with this story I felt this was exactly what was needed. It balances the laughs with the tears, and there is plenty of both. The film does not shy away from the terrible aspects of ageing and dying, but it also does not shy away from staying relaxed about it. As there’s nothing you can do about it anyway, you can just as well have some fun while you’re at it. This is frank and uncompromising at times, and embraces you with warm-heartedness and joy at others.

Maybe it sometimes plays out a bit too slick, and maybe not all the supporting cast can keep up with it, but all in all, I was pleasantly surprised by this very professional approach to telling a somehow local story in a global way.

It may be worth to add a short plot summary, as many people will never have heard of this film or its director, one of Germany’s most talented: “Sturm” is about Hannah Maynard, a prosecutor at the Den Haag court, seeking to find evidence against a Serbian general suspected of war crimes during the Serbian-Bosnian war. The key witness turns out to be less reliable than hoped for, but before the trial collapses, she finds another witness, sister  of the former, who seems to know more than she originally wanted to reveal. Maynard travels to Serbia and Bosnia, trying to find the truth behind everybody’s personally biased stories, in order to save her case (and her career) and gets entangled in a game of politics and family.

I have seen this film a hundred times… not this film specifically, but films with very similar story story lines. They are usually set in (or rather: after) World War II, sometimes Vietnam or Cambodia. Interestingly, I have never seen this with the background of the breakup of former Yugoslavia. Maybe I have just missed the many movies that were made in the course of the last 20 years about this atrocious war in the heart of Europe – or did nobody really dare to tackle it? Were producers shying away from what has always been considered a terribly complicated situation, with ethnic minorities, shifting national borders and obscure international alliances playing in?

Maybe so. In any case: it’s worth doing it. The Balkan war provides for interesting settings and characters, especially a German audience will not feel estranged, as so many refugees and later migrants have mingled in the German community and today are integral part of it. These people who got tortured, raped and killed during the war are people who were friends or family of our friends or colleagues. I am not sure whether this film already constitutes a movement, a widening of perspective beyond what Fatih Akin has established with his uncompromising new definition of what constitutes a German “Heimatfilm”, but I certainly hope so. I want to see more stories about these people who live between two worlds, I want to see more about how they are dealing with conflict and anger, and how they are fighting their fears to stand up in a trial that will expose too much of their self for comfort.

I have to add: this is by no means a perfect  movie. The drama at its core is played half-heartedly and brings about not too many surprises. The prosecutor is provided with a … say … home conflict that is a bit too convenient to be credible. A complete nuisance is the German dubbing: while the film starts off with people speaking their respective local language, at some point we are thrown into a Den Haag setting where everybody seems to speak German, with respective local flavor. Apparently the film was produced with an international cast, it eludes eludes eludes me why they have to mess its authentic international character up through this nonsensical (and poorly recorded and mixed, very flat) dubbing. Sorry, but a dubbed film always sounds a bit like a porn movie… and not in a good way …

Despite the flaws: a very interesting film, well worth checking out!

%d bloggers like this: