Sydney Film Festival 2018 Spotlight on Germany’s top talents

3 Days in Quiberon.
3 Days in Quiberon. | © Sydney Film Festival

Good things come in small packages at the 2018 Sydney Film Festival, at least where German cinema is involved. While the festival’s full lineup features 326 films from 65 countries across a twelve-day period from June 6 to 17, it’s a case of quality over quantity when it comes to ‘Deutsch’ filmmaking. Indeed, amidst SFF’s eight German features and documentaries resides some of the country’s top talents.

VYING FOR THE TOP PRIZE

Leading the charge is Christian Petzold’s Transit, the latest film from the acclaimed writer/director, which comes to Sydney straight from its Berlinale premiere. The filmmaker’s previous features, the Nina Hoss-starring Barbara and Phoenix, also screened at the festival; however Transit becomes Petzold’s first film to earn a spot in the Sydney Film Festival’s official competition. Further, it’s only the third wholly or primarily German production in the prize’s now eleven-year history, following Oh Boy in 2013 and Victoria in 2015.

Transit. Transit. | © Sydney Film Festival In a competition that seeks to reward features deemed “audacious, cutting-edge and courageous”, Transit is a fitting inclusion, with the film offering a moving exploration of the difficulties of facing the future when the past keeps making its presence known. At the film’s centre sits Georg (Franz Rogowski), who is caught in limbo in Marseilles as he seeks clear passage from wartime oppression. As he waits to secure the documents needed to set sail to Mexico — paperwork that has only been made possible by assuming someone else’s identity — he becomes close to two others also dreaming of brighter days ahead: Marie (Paula Beer), who Georg keeps passing in the street, and young Driss (Lilien Batman), who has just lost his father.

ON-SCREEN STARS

Under Petzold’s reliably measured yet emotive eye, rising star Rogowski proves a standout in Transit. The German talent cuts to the core of Georg’s internal conflict in the type of quiet but commanding performance his director is known for cultivating, though the actor’s penchant for poignant pensiveness is all his own. Indeed, it’s a mood that Rogowski also displays in a second SFF highlight, as well as a second film screening in Sydney direct from Berlin.

In the Aisles. In the Aisles. | © Sydney Film Festival In romantic drama In the Aisles, he plays a shy man also tying to forge a new life, this time in a supermarket warehouse. Between stacking beverages on the shelves and taking forklift lessons from his kindly boss, his character Christian falls for Marion from the sweets department — with his love interest played by another German star, Toni Erdmann’s Sandra Hüller.
 
Where In the Aisles pairs two of the nation’s best contemporary actors in a lyrical film worthy of their talents, Emily Atef’s 3 Days in Quibéron tasks a current star with bringing a legend to life. The Counterfeiters’ Marie Bäumer steps into the shoes of Romy Schneider, in a movie that charts three days spent by the Sissi icon in the French village of the title. One of the biggest figures in Europe at the time, Schneider chats with a journalist about her career, fame and controversies, all during a period when she’s struggling with both personal and professional problems. An intimate portrait of the actress’ final interview, it’s also an accomplished showcase for Bäumer.

A MUST-SEE RETROSPECTIVE SCREENING

Bäumer sparkles in 3 Days in Quibéron — just as Hüller shines in In the Aisles — but few actresses have ever been gifted such astonishing roles as Hanna Schygulla. Across a 23-film collaboration with Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Schygulla carved a place as one of German cinema’s enduring greats, with The Marriage of Maria Braun perhaps the greatest of their combined efforts.

The Marriage of Maria Braun. The Marriage of Maria Braun. | © Sydney Film Festival Chronicling a complicated relationship between the eponymous woman and her presumed-dead husband of just one day, as well as the aftermath, the powerful, lingering piece is rightfully considered among Fassbinder’s greatest works as well. In Sydney, it features among the festival’s retrospective screenings, accompanied by a discussion by Juliane Lorenz, president of the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation.

GERMAN TALENT CASTING THEIR EYES ELSEWHERE

Rounding out the German contingent at this year’s SFF, four other features spread the nation’s filmmaking prowess beyond its borders. In Saudi Arabia co-production The Poetess, directors Stefanie Brockhaus and Andreas Wolff document the true tale of the first female finalist on Arab-language reality television program Million’s Poet. Elsewhere, The Cleaners sees Moritz Riesewieck and Hans Block ponder internet censorship in a Manilla office charged with deleting inappropriate materials from the internet.
 
Winning Syrian filmmaker Talal Derki the documentary grand jury prize at Sundance, Of Fathers and Sons paints a portrait of a radical Islamist family, in a feature that was co-produced by Germany, Syria, Lebanon and Qatar. And Iranian visual artist Shirin Neshat’s Looking for Oum Kulthum, produced in tandem by Berlin-based and Austrian outfits, tracks a fictional filmmaker trying to make a film about the titular real-life Egyptian singer.

The Sydney Film Festival runs from June 6 to 17, 2018.