What better time is there to celebrate recent films from the German-speaking world than in the run-up to the 67th annual Berlin International Film Festival, taking place next month, from February 15th-25th? The variety within the German movie industry really is astonishing, but we have managed to find some of the most highly-rated films to give you a taste of what’s produced for the silver screen there. They can be enjoyed with or without subtitles.
One thing, just before we get started. Did you notice the title of this blog article? Ab Donnerstag im Kino means “from Thursday in the cinema” and it’s a common phrase associated with films because new films are traditionally released on a Thursday in Germany. Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s sit back and relax. Schnapp’ dir eine Schüssel Popcorn und los geht’s!
1. Nirgendwo in Afrika [Nowhere in Africa] (2001)
This film is based on Stefanie Zweig’s autobiography, telling the story of a Jewish family’s escape from Nazi Germany in 1938. Walter Redlich had worked as a lawyer in Germany, but takes on the role of a farm manager when he arrives in Africa. His wife, Jettel, and daughter, Regina, join him later. The little girl adapts quickly to life in her new country with ease and enthusiasm, whereas his wife misses their old life and finds it takes longer to adjust. Together, the family learn to cope with their changed circumstances in a new land.
2. Good Bye, Lenin! (2003)
Set against a time of great change, der Mauerfall and die Wiedervereinigung, “Good bye Lenin!” relays the tale of a young man’s efforts to hide the true events of German history from his mum. He does this with the best of intentions, as she is not to receive any shock that may have a detrimental effect on her health, after being in a coma. Consequently, Alex goes to great lengths to maintain the pretence that everything is as it was, never letting on to his Mum that the Berlin Wall has fallen. How far will Alex go in contriving elaborate schemes in order to shield his mum from the reality of the outer world?
3. Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage [Sophie Scholl: The Final Days] (2005)
Based on the life of anti-Nazi heroine, Sophie Scholl, played by Julia Jentsch, this story is set in 1943 in Munich. The plot deals with the interrogation process and the last 6 days of Scholl’s life. Genuine incarceration records were used to help make the film. She and her brother were members of the student resistance group “The White Rose”. They have been detained after distributing leaflets which criticise the regime. The police inspector Robert Mohr, played by Alexander Held, is unsuccessful in retrieving the information he needs from Sophie. With her firm idealist values, Sophie does not budge on her stance for a lighter sentence in return for accomplices’ names. At its core, the film is a debate over which side is freer: those who bow down to the regime in fear or those who defy it and remain true to their beliefs. The former may conform to survive, but can anyone truly ‘live’?
4. Die Fälscher [The Counterfeiters] (2007)
In 2007, this picture won best foreign language film at the Oscars. A Jewish prisoner of war has skills that are valuable to the camp commandant. His counterfeiting abilities are used by his captors against the Allies. Do the prisoners go along with the guards’ plan for their own self-preservation in a desperate situation, or do they try to outsmart the guards and remain loyal to the Allies?
5. Oh Boy! [A Coffee in Berlin] (2012)
This black and white comedy introduces the viewer to Niko. He’s unemployed, having dropped out of his Jurastudium 2 years ago, but didn’t let his dad know this important detail about this change in his life. His dad isn’t happy to learn he’s been funding his son’s carefree lifestyle. Niko begins to learn that his dry wit will only get him so far in life. When he strikes up a romance with a former school friend, he confides in her, Kennst du das, wenn man so das Gefühl hat, dass die Menschen um einen herum irgendwie merkwürdig sind? Und dir wird irgendwie klar, dass vielleicht nicht die Anderen, sondern dass man selbst das Problem ist? Is Niko beginning to look at his choices in life again?
6. Honig im Kopf [Head full of Honey] (2014)
Til Schweiger has not only written and directed this movie, but stars in it too, alongside his daughter, who plays his daughter in the film. It makes it clear that family is a core theme of the film, revolving around the grandfather’s Alzheimer’s disease. As the grandfather’s condition worsens, Niko, his son, decides he cannot keep sidestepping the inevitability of putting his dad in a home. Tilda, the granddaughter, has different ideas and in a bid to save her grandfather from this fate, sets off with him in an adventure to Venice. It’s a place full of fond memories as this is where he spent his honeymoon with his departed wife.There are laughs to be had in the granddad’s inappropriate remarks which raise a few eyebrows, and tears when reliving the past proves to be tough with a fading memory.