Bavarian Revival in Film
More Than Just Oom-pah Music

“Wer früher stirbt ist länger tot” (Grave Decisions)
“Wer früher stirbt ist länger tot” (Grave Decisions) | Photo (detail): © Movienet / Deutsches Filminstitut

Young filmmakers are discovering the Bavarian dialect: first off the mark was Marcus H. Rosenmüller in his film “Wer früher stirbt ist länger tot” (English title: Grave Decisions), and now more and more directors are daring to make films in dialect.

In broad Bavarian, little Sebastian asks the priest in the village church: “So what I am actually supposed to do now?”, provoking howls of laughter from the audience. A 2006 Bavarian film, or rather a film in Bavarian, had cinemagoers everywhere – from Munich to Hamburg – rolling in the aisles. Marcus H. Rosenmüller’s Wer früher stirbt ist länger tot proved a big hit with audiences and achieved ticket sales of almost two million, according to the production company. And this despite the fact – or perhaps precisely because? – the majority of the actors spoke in the slow, relaxed drawl of the south German dialect.

Rosenmüller’s film got rave reviews, critics claiming that it brought a “breath of fresh air” to German film and was “a small miracle with a big impact”. It would appear that the addition of this pinch of dialect to the film really did have a miraculous effect, for not only has a new Rosenmüller film been released in cinemas almost every year since Wer früher stirbt ist länger tot – other young directors have also been encouraged to make films in Bavarian dialect.
Films in dialect are experiencing a renaissance of a kind that would have been virtually impossible to imagine just twenty years ago. Classified by Unesco in 2009 as being at risk, the Bavarian dialect thus appears at least partly rehabilitated, thanks to cinema.

Actors speak just the way they were taught to as children

One of the young directors who find it only natural to make films in their local dialect is Konstantin Ferstl, born 1983. All the same, he is keen to resist hackneyed clichés. “In the past, dialect in many films was associated with a sort of peasant stereotype, with the Bavarian character being the butt of all the jokes”, explains Ferstl. “Fortunately, people nowadays give the dialect a bit more credit.”

In Trans Bavaria, Ferstl’s 2011 feature film, the dialect of Lower Bavaria is spoken. “I felt that it was important for my actors to speak authentically, just the way they were taught to as children”, explains Ferstl. After all, there is no such thing as one single Bavarian dialect – it differs from region to region.

Rosenmüller still achieves the greatest commercial success, his films exuding a charm to which it would appear that all of Germany succumbs. Konstantin Ferstl describes Rosenmüller as a “door opener”, but believes that the way was actually paved by someone else: namely Thomas Kronthaler in his 2001 film Die Scheinheiligen. This satire about a fast-food restaurant that is to be built in Upper Bavaria is as it were the grandfather of modern Bavarian film. Witty, intelligent and ironic – and, like many of its successors, produced by a former student of the University of Television and Film Munich (HFF): not only Kronthaler but also Rosenmüller and Ferstl graduated from the HFF.

Rarely have there been so many Bavarian productions

Rainer Kaufmann, a director who was born in Frankfurt am Main, also has his characters speak Bavarian dialect, at least in his television productions: in Marias letzte Reise, for example, as well as in Milchgeld and Föhnlage, his popular comedy crime dramas of recent years that are set in the foothills of the Alps. And new young directors are emerging onto the scene all the time: HFF graduate Sebastian Stern made his 2010 graduation film Die Hummel in the Lower Bavarian dialect, while a year later Munich director Markus Goller’s comedy Eine ganz heiße Nummer was released. Christian Lerch’s directorial debut in 2012 was also a comedy, even its title reflecting the laconic nature of the Bavarian attitude: Was weg is, is weg – i.e. What’s gone is gone.

Director and screenplay writer Steffi Kammermeier also studied at the University of Television and Film Munich. Although she has been shooting films in dialect for 30 years, she believes it is Rosenmüller who succeeded in opening the genre up to young audiences. She also confirms the new self-confidence exhibited by Bavarian filmmaking, saying that rarely have there been so many Bavarian productions. As a side-line to her own filmmaking work, Kammermeier runs courses in Bavarian, which are particularly popular among younger actors. “There is considerable demand at the moment for actors who can speak both dialect and standard German”, says Kammermeier.

Her seminars are attended both by “young actors who have rid themselves of their dialect at drama school” and by those wishing to learn Bavarian from scratch. Because there is no single “Bavarian” dialect, Kammermeier has settled for a compromise: “I teach a kind of consensus Bavarian, a moderate form of Upper Bavarian that will be familiar to viewers of television series such as the Rosenheim Cops.”

Bavarian can be learnt just like any other foreign language

For some years now, television series such as these have been making a comeback. All of a sudden, old episodes of 1980s series like Irgendwie und Sowieso and Monaco Franze are enjoying cult status again amongst twenty-somethings. In 2007, regional Bavarian broadcaster Bayerisches Fernsehen brought out a new early evening series called Dahoam is Dahoam, an amusing daily soap that even Bavarians who have “emigrated” to Berlin follow religiously every evening.

While Steffi Kammermeier is convinced that Bavarian can be learnt “with a little bit of talent and musicality” just like any other foreign language, director Konstantin Ferstl is a champion of the authentic dialect. For him the question of whether dialect would be spoken in his films simply never arose. “It was always obvious that it would, given that I think in Bavarian myself”, he says.