German Films at the Berlinale Society in Focus

Four German-language films – more than ever before – are entered in the competition at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival. But do they have a chance to take home a Golden or a Silver Bear?

The official competition at the 2014 Berlinale has gathered together twenty films from all over the world, from Argentina and the United States to Cyprus. And while at last year’s edition of the film festival only a single German film was entered – Gold by Thomas Arslan – in 2014 there are four German films on the starting-line. And also in the other sections it is the hour of German cinema at the 64 edition of the largest public film festival in the world: 107 of the approximately 400 Berlinale films are German productions or co-productions. No other country is represented more frequently than the host.

Afghanistan and abandoned children

“Zwischen Welten“ by Feo Aladag. “Zwischen Welten“ by Feo Aladag. | Bjoern Kommerell © Independent Artist Filmproduktion If we cast a glance at the German competition entries, we soon notice that they all treat political or social issues. Thus the director Feo Aladag tells in Zwischen Welten (i.e., Between Worlds) of a Bundeswehr soldier on mission in Afghanistan who becomes acquainted with a young Afghan translator, who is threatened with death by his countrymen because of his contact with the Germans. Aladag’s last feature film, Die Fremde (i.e., The Stranger), about the cultural identity of a German-Turkish woman, was in the running in 2011 for an Oscar nomination as Best Foreign Language Film; the prominent placing of her new film in the Berlinale competition appears to be a consequence.
„Jack“ by Edward Berger. „Jack“ by Edward Berger. | © Jens Harant Jack by Edward Berger also takes a look at social realities: the ten-year old Jack looks after his little brother on his own; his single mother works during the day and is absent most of the time. When Jack is put into a home, he escapes and wanders with his brother completely alone through Berlin. Soon the children learn the hard way that most people care little what happens to them – a metaphor for the dog-eat-dog society, but also a drama that wraps the challenges of new family models in a social fairy tale following in the footsteps of the Brothers Grimm.

Schiller and the church

„Die geliebten Schwestern“ by Dominik Graf. „Die geliebten Schwestern“ by Dominik Graf. | © Senator Film The German director and all-rounder Dominik Graf (Der rote Kakadu [i.e., The Red Cockatoo], Im Angesicht des Verbrechens [i.e., In the Face of Crime]), who otherwise likes to avow himself a fan of American genre cinema, toes the Berlinale starting-line with Friedrich Schiller. His historical romantic drama Die geliebten Schwestern (i.e., Beloved Sisters) portrays the unusual love triangle in which the poet of the Weimar Classicism in Germany was involved in 1788 with two impoverished aristocratic sisters. The reason that Graf’s first cinema film in eight years has been allowed to compete in the contest for a Bear is most likely the culturally valuable themes of the universal love story: the cultural centre of Weimar, early book printing and the approaching French Revolution fringe the ménage à trois.
„Kreuzweg“ by Dietrich Brüggemann. „Kreuzweg“ by Dietrich Brüggemann. | © Dietrich Brüggemann Also represented in the Berlin competition is Dietrich Brüggemann. Brüggemann, who with his last two films 3 Zimmer/Küche/Bad (i.e., 3 Rooms/Kitchen/Bath) (2012) und Renn, wenn du kannst (i.e., Run If You Can) (2010) rendered services to German romantic comedy, strikes a more serious tone in his fourth feature film, His drama Kreuzweg (i.e., Stations of the Cross) orients itself dramatically on the fourteen images of Jesus’ stations of the Cross and treats the hardships of the teenager Maria, who is threatened with a breakdown by her strict Catholic upbringing. Brüggemann thus also opens a socially relevant window.

Golden Bear – quo vadis?

The Bundeswehr mission in Afghanistan, the age of Schiller and Goethe, a perverted turbo-Catholicism and a dysfunctional family that exists despite the society in which it finds itself: the four German films in the Berlinale competition are one in that they address social relations more or less on the offensive. Perhaps a film without this focus would hardly advance to a contender for a Bear at a festival like the Berlinale, which has repeatedly emphasized it political mission. For example, the last Golden Bear for Germany went to Fatih Akin’s powerful integration drama Gegen die Wand (Head-On) (2004). The German-Turkish director thus stood in the ranks of such different cinematic analyses of the German present as Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Die Sehnsucht der Veronika Voss (1982 Golden Bear) and Rainer Hauff’s terrorist drama Stammheim (1986 Golden Bear). In recent years, in the meantime, films on Nazi Germany (Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage [i.e., Sophie Scholl – The Last Days]; director: Marc Rothemund), developing countries (Schlafkrankheit [i.e., Sleeping Sickness]; director: Ulrich Köhler) and the GDR (Barbara; director: Christian Petzold) have also been able to take home prizes.

Whether the jury headed by James Schamus will decide to give awards to German films remains to be seen. We may note, however, that four of the host country’s entries have what it takes for an award at least in terms of their themes.