Award-winning German Cinema More On the Way?

“Halt auf freier Strecke”: film critics with tears in their eyes.
“Halt auf freier Strecke”: film critics with tears in their eyes. | Photo (detail): © Pandora Film

Quite a few of the latest German films, such as “Barbara” or “Halt auf freier Strecke” (Stopped On Track), have already won prizes at the international festivals in Cannes and Berlin. And in April they were in competition again, this time for the German Film Prize.

Whether on television or in romance novels, hardly any subject is more popular than the passions of the helpers in white coats. And now – a film about doctors in East Germany. That could have been a big flop, but in Barbara, Christian Petzold tells a wonderful love story set in the midst of a regime’s hostility. It has period atmosphere, but is devoid of Ostalgie. Set in the Olympic summer of 1980 in a provincial hospital on the Baltic Sea coast, doctor Barbara starts work. She is not here of her own accord, having applied to emigrate and been sent here as a punishment. An exciting start for a drama in which feelings ensure that there is a surprising twist at the end. As so often with Petzold, the story’s key text has a literary source. Ronald Zehrfeld (André) speaks to Nina Hoss (Barbara) about The District Doctor by Ivan Turgenev. In the book, as in Barbara, the focus is on longing for a meaningful life. In Turgenev’s book, there is a bitter price to be paid for it, whereas, in Petzold’s version, this time, there is not. This is great cinema with a brilliant cast right down to all the minor characters, and it is thoughtfully produced.

“Life is alive, it is a wonderful summer’s day”,

are the words of the refrain at the end of Stopped On Track. “Afterwards, you step back into the light,” says Andreas Dresen in explanation of the happy song at the end of his poignant film about dying. A welcome consolation, as Stopped On Track took such a toll on even hard-boiled film critics that they were still walking around in sunglasses hours after its press screening at the film festival in Cannes in 2011 to hide the tears in their eyes. Frank Lange lives an orderly and happy life. He is married, has two children and lives in a town house when he is diagnosed as having a brain tumour and is given only a few months to live. We follow him and his family on this trip towards death. Mercilessly and immediately – from farewell sex to incontinence pads. Grandiosely acted by Milan Peschel, but never sentimental, the film touches on feared taboos.

Hell is not other people

Tim Fehlbaum’s Hell breaks a different kind of taboo. Home-made genre films are often still frowned upon in the German film scene as being something that might bring in cash but not accolades. Now we have to have a rethink – the post-apocalyptic thriller Hell with its top-notch ensemble of actors (including Hannah Herzsprung and Lars Eidinger) was nominated for awards in an amazing six Lola categories. This gripping eco-thriller about the fight for survival in a world without water had already won the Young German Cinema Award...

So close that it hurts

In recent years, it was difficult for feature films about neo-Nazis to get a look-in when it came to board of sponsors or broadcasting stations. “Seen it all - low viewer ratings”, were the comments. But David Wnendt was not put off by that – for years, he carried out research for Kriegerin (Combat Girl) and found courageous partners. Shortly before the discovery of the Zwickau terror cell shocked Germany, his feature film debut gave everyone a seismic wakeup call. With a clever script and skilled screenplay, Wnendt shows how easily one can slip into the right-wing scene and the price that has to be paid for leaving it.

The film’s success is largely due to the discovery of Alina Levshin, whose sensitive acting in every scene gives viewers the creeps and who bravely endures the worst haircut in German film history. Since its premiere at the Munich Film Festival in 2011, Kriegerin has received world acclaim, highlighting how relevant the subject of “far-right young people” is even outside Germany.

Skateboarders and blondes’ delight

This Ain’t California – of course not, we are in East Berlin – and on Alexanderplatz, skateboards are called Rollbretter. The film that won the “Dialogue in perspective” prize in the Berlinale series Perspektive Deutsches Kino portrays the East German skateboarding subculture in the eighties. Director Marten Persiel uses original material, animation and interviews to portray the attitude towards life of these exotic people under the East German regime. Using a combination of different formats, he aesthetically creates a story that is not only believable, but also gripping: His audiences roll along with him – on skateboards made from old roller skates. “Skate-boarding meant liberation,” as one of the protagonists put it.

When Rolf Eden speaks of freedom, it usually has something to do with sex. Many people have heard of Rolf Eden from the tabloid press. He is an 82-year-old with a sunbed-tanned face who likes to surround himself with blondes who must definitely be no older than thirty. Why make a documentary about the “King of Berlin nightlife”, whose playboy attitude is well past its sell-by date? In The Big Eden, Peter Dörfler draws an authentic picture of a unique career and also tells us things we did not know. Rolf Eden was born in Tempelhof in 1930 and his birth name was Shimon Eden. Three years later, he fled with his family to Palestine. When he returned to Berlin in 1957, it was an unknown world for him, “Berlin was absolutely foreign to me. Like Alaska.” But not for long. Using his DM 6,000 homecomers’ bonus, he built a night-club empire, bringing stars to Germany – Louis Armstrong, Jack Lemmon, Liza Minelli etc. His megadisco “Big Eden” became known far beyond Germany’s borders – even the Rolling Stones danced here. In this film, Dörfler succeeds in making not only a fascinating portrait of Rolf Eden, but also of post-war Berlin. And another thing we have always wanted to know is how Eden managed to father seven children with seven different women.

Road Movie in the past tense

In Johannes Schmid’s film Blöde Mütze (Silly’s Sweet Summer), twelve-year-olds were the heroes, but there were also adults among his enthusiastic audience. And that will remain the case because his new film Wintertochter (Winter Daughter) is a “film of generations” in the truest sense of the word. On Christmas Eve, twelve-year-old Katharina is suddenly confronted with the fact that the man she hitherto believed to be her father is not her biological father. Angrily, she sets off for Poland to look for her father with her best friend and her 75-year-old neighbour Lene Graumann. This journey is also an inner one. What are friendship, love and family? Katharina, but also Lene Graumann, have to question their values. We travel with them in this concentrated yet emotional road movie.