German Films 2007/08: Where is that home now?
Many of last year's new German films thus focussed on themes such as broken families, the loss of love and security, and the associated search for a new beginning.
In The Things Between Us (Die Dinge zwischen uns), Iris Janssen, who directed the film, sends the principal figure, a dutiful housewife married to a mayor, to a brothel in Cologne. What starts off as an adventure trip leads to sexual liberation. The film, which at first sight appears to be a tribute to Buñuel's Beauty of the Day (Belle de Jour), is much more radical and disturbing than the latter – but nevertheless never voyeuristic.
By contrast, the four episodes of the documentary Jesus loves you deal with people who have already found answers to their search for meaning. The film accompanies young evangelists on a mission tour in German during the Soccer World Cup; the way in which they pursue their goals is portrayed in a manner that is both touching and often unintentionally comic.
Dennis Gansel's new film entitled The Wave (Die Welle), which had its première at the Sundance Film Festival in January this year, is about (false) prophets and their seductive power. Based on a true story, Gansel recounts how easily young people can be won over for authoritarian structures and how quickly the experiment carried out by a history teacher takes on fascistic characteristics.
The film According to the Plan (Frei nach Plan), which won Franziska Meletzky, its director, first prize at the Shanghai Film Festival, illustrates the fact that "family" does not also mean "security". The film tells the story of a family party where absolutely everything goes wrong, old wounds are reopened, death takes place and songs are sung. When an elephant turns up in Thuringia in the end, total chaos breaks out, but suddenly there is hope once again – the family clan has rearranged itself. And every ending also contains a beginning, which is especially true of this intelligent tragicomedy.
Documentary films: the boom continues
Four of the ten feature-length films in this year's 'Perspektive Deutsches Kino' section were documentaries. As in 2007, the jury awarded its Dialogue en Perspective prize to a documentary: Sebastian Heidinger's study Drifter, which focuses on young drug-addicted male prostitutes.
The documentary, once a niche genre, has long since become an attraction, a development that can also be seen at other festivals.
Anna Hoffmann's final-year-film-school entry Where is that home now? (Welche Richtung geht’s nach Hause?), for instance, was ranked 25 by the public (out of 650 films) at the Rotterdam Film Festival. In a focussed manner and with an unerring eye, Hoffmann accompanies her father and uncle on their return trip to the village in Kazakhstan that they had left 15 years earlier.
Igor Heitzmann tells a family story of a different kind in his winning film at the Leipzig Documentary Festival, A Father’s Music (Nach der Musik). His father, the famous conductor Otmar Suitner, had two families – one in East Berlin and one in West Berlin. "I sensed that I had to go in search of the musician in order to find the father," is the way Heitzmann, who grew up in West Berlin, describes his artistic and subtle rapprochement with his "weekend father".
Pepe Danquart's documentary To the Limit (Am Limit), which tells the story of two extreme rock-climbers, has also been a commercial success, having been seen by over 150,000 cinema viewers in Germany alone. It has already been awarded the Bavarian Film Prize and is now regarded as the favourite for the German Film Prize.
On the other side: No place on earth.
Where does 'foreign' begin, where does 'home' begin? Longing and return are the central points in Fatih Akin's award-winning film The Edge of Heaven (Auf der anderen Seite). The search for a long-lost daughter, alienation between father and son – Akin's story is also about broken families. By way of paradox, it is death that offers an opportunity here – redemption and a chance to begin again, where one least expects it.
In Hotel Very Welcome, Sonja Heiss portrays foreign countries in a comic and touching manner as places of yearning supplying the answers one can't find at home, although, admittedly, intercultural misunderstandings make things rather difficult for the protagonists of the "globalisation generation". And in Doris Dörrie's Berlinale entry, Cherry Blossoms - Hanami (Kirschblüten - Hanami), Elmar Wepper and Hannelore Elsner, playing a long-married couple, provide impressive evidence of the fact that the search for meaning is not a question of age.
Veit Helmer's film, Absurdistan, on the other hand, which also had its first screening at the Sundance Festival, shows foreign countries as a fabulous in-between world. In his film, which was shot in the northwest of Azerbaijan, Helmer develops a scenario that is not folkloristic but integrates set pieces from all over the world. A modern fairytale with a topicality referencing topics such as ecology and gender roles.
But what should one do if one cannot find one's way home? Although the soldier in Brigitte Bertele's harrowing drama Night Before Eyes (Nacht vor Augen) has returned to the Black Forest physically unharmed, he is so traumatized by his experiences that his thoughts return again and again to Afghanistan. It is not until he has come to terms with the events that took place there that he can experience a bitter catharsis and a true home-coming.
What was predicted last year has become reality: the Federal Film Fund (Deutsche Filmförderfonds, dfff), inaugurated in 2007, has given the German film industry a strong boost. 99 film projects were promoted in Germany in 2007 within the context of film productions totalling about 390 million euros. German producers, too, were thus able to realize ambitious projects with budgets running into the millions. Projects that have received funding include new films such as Im Winter ein Jahr (i.e. Aftermath) by Oscar-prize-winner Caroline Link and John Rabe by Florian Gallenberger; the premières of these films in 2008 are eagerly awaited.
And Marco Kreuzpainter's film version of The Satanic Mill (Krabat), a children's book, together with Uli Edel's interpretation of the best-seller entitled The Baader-Meinhof Complex (Der Baader - Meinhof – Komplex) will also ensure that 2008 is an exciting film year.
Whether it is a question of a production costing millions or an ambitious project made by a young filmmaker – the fact that German films set great store by authenticity from an aesthetic and a content point of view cannot be overlooked. "After all, documentary films meet with a public that is ravenous for plain, intelligible reality, for the truth", says film journalist Birgit Glombitza. In Germany, this tendency is becoming stronger and stronger.
is a film historian and moderator
Translation: Mary-Lou Eisenberger
Copyright: Goethe-Institut, Online-Redaktion
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