German film now

Leonie Naughton

Franke Potente, Blueprint

Franke Potente, Blueprint

Not since the halcyon days of the Weimar Republic has the German film industry been so active or enjoyed such popular success inside Germany. Goodbye Lenin, which opened last year’s Festival of German Cinema, was hugely popular. This year’s festival similarly opens with a box office hit that revisits Germany’s past.

The Miracle of Bern (director Sönke Wortmann) is a melodrama charting the restoration of the Germany’s self-respect through the story of a family reunited after the War. Their story coincides with Germany’s sporting triumph of winning the World Cup in 1954. Aptly described as the kind of film critics hate and audiences love, this vision of post-war Germany is at times bleak, but the overall tone is amiable and up-beat.

Like The Miracle of Bern, Swabian Children comes from a well established prize winning director, Jo Baier. His film deals with a little known chapter of German history as compelling as it is shocking: the child slave trade at the turn of the last century.

The Stratosphere Girl comes direct from the Berlin International Film Festival. The dark futuristic vision of this heavily stylised action mystery owes much to Japanese Anime and Blade Runner. Nightsongs also premiered at the Berlinale. A sinister and unnerving psychodrama, the film portrays the nuclear family as a repository of resentment and seething contempt.

One of the most curious features of the festival stars Franke Potente, the heroine of cult film Run Lola Run. In Blueprint Potente plays a double-role: a world famous concert pianist and composer and her clone daughter. Although the theme is topical and provocative, for historical-ideological reasons the cloning experiment takes place outside of Germany in Canada, where much of the movie was shot.

Two films screening at the festival deal with asylum seekers and illegal immigrants in Germany. Gate to Heaven is an airport romance between an Indian woman and a Russian man that includes Bollywood-style musical interludes. A Little Bit of Freedom is much more sombre in tone and is among the most remarkably vibrant films in the festival. It revolves around 2 teenagers struggling to survive in Hamburg’s red light district, bound by their experiences as illegal immigrants. Their mutual loyalty is their only solace in a harsh underworld of betrayal and deceit.

Film buffs will be delighted to see the 60 minute documentary Fassbinder in Hollywood (director Robert Fischer), which includes rarely seen footage and valuable insights into the famous director’s career.

The New Directions program, a selection of extraordinarily accomplished German film school shorts, will also be screening again this year. A range of innovative animations will be featured, including the breathtakingly lyrical Medea and My Parents, an uproarious satire about sexuality in the suburbs.

The greatest treats of the festival are the smaller, distinctive comedies, like Play it Loud, Learning to Lie and Gun Shy. The director of Play it Loud, Benjamin Quabeck, will be a guest of the festival. His film takes a satirical but affectionate look at the explosion of New Wave music and fashion in the provincial backwater of Schwabing. Paul, the irrepressible protagonist, is a trainee bank clerk, obsessed with staging a huge concert featuring his friends. All of the ridiculous solemnity of New Wave music and fashion are impeccably captured in this film: the haircuts, flamboyant clothes, nihilistic lyrics, robotic dancing and clubs. Gun Shy is a quirky black comedy, focusing on the idiosyncrasies and eccentric events in the life of Lukas, a loner who delivers “meals on wheels” to old people. His is a world populated by misfits and the film is a beguiling and unruly flight of fantasy.

The Festival of German Cinema provides audiences in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne with a rare opportunity to see a cross-section of films from one of Europe’s most vibrant and active filmmaking cultures.

3rd Festival of German Cinema, Chauvel and Valhalla Cinemas, Sydney, April 15-25; Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne, April 16-25; Southbank Cinemas, Brisbane, April 21-24

RealTime issue #60 April-May 2004 pg. 21

© Leonie Naughton; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2004