German Film Festival 2018 The Silent Revolution: Saying something by saying nothing

'The Silent Revolution' is the Opening Night film of the 2018 German Film Festival in Australia.
'The Silent Revolution' is the Opening Night film of the 2018 German Film Festival in Australia. | © The Silent Revolution

When a class of high schoolers choose to make a statement by not making a statement in writer/director Lars Kraume's ‘The Silent Revolution’, their aghast elders prove verbose in response.

With reactions ranging from angry to concerned, the agitated group of teachers and parents don’t make the obvious comment, however. The generation that lived through the Second World War as adults doesn’t tell their children and pupils that actions can speak louder than words, but that’s easily implied; instead, they advise the teens that that there’s no such thing as an apolitical act in Germany circa 1956.
 
Young and old alike, they’re all East German residents at a time before the Berlin Wall carved up the country, although they’re all still coping with the nation’s enormous ideological divide. In such a climate, not speaking when spoken to can be seen as an insubordinate, threatening act. Spending two minutes in silence, then announcing that it was done in protest, is considered a counter-revolutionary attack.

A little-known post-war story

A true story based on Dietrich Garstka’s autobiographical book of the same name, The Silent Revolution explores the aftermath of the mere moments that rocked a class, school and community — and changed lives irreversibly in the process. More than that, writer/director Lars Kraume conveys the cost of opposing the status quo, thematically reaching beyond the specific incident in question. As his film examines an environment of control and fear in which deviating from the norm by simply keeping one’s mouth shut briefly is deemed aggressive and subversive, it both probes history and presents a reminder of the loss of freedom that’s engrained in a fractured society.

'The Silent Revolution' explores the aftermath of the mere moments that rocked a class, school and community. 'The Silent Revolution' explores the aftermath of the mere moments that rocked a class, school and community. | © The Silent Revolution For the Stalinstadt students, their plight begins when friends Theo (Leonard Scheicher) and Kurt (Tom Gramenz) journey over the not-yet-walled border to West Berlin. Asked why by the authorities, they claim to be visiting the grave of Kurt’s SS Officer grandfather — which they do — but they’re also eager to explore the other side of the city. Specifically, they’re keen to see the movie Liane, Jungle Goddess, though it’s the pre-feature newsreel that ends up leaving the much bigger imprint.
 
After learning of the Hungarian Uprising, the duo return home determined to act, or at the very least to spread the word to their peers. Discovering that they can listen to American-supported RIAS radio station at the house of a classmate’s (Isaiah Michalski) eccentric uncle (Michael Gwisdek), the group is soon inspired to unleash their stint of silence. It’s the staunchly pro-Communist Erik (Jonas Dassler) who informs their teacher what’s going on, prompting increasingly harsh questioning by their headmaster (Florian Lukas), then the stern chair of the school board (Jördis Triebel), and finally the education minister (Burghart Klaussner).

The cost of a divided society

As he did with 2015’s The People vs. Fritz Bauer, Kraume contemplates and recreates real-life events with an exacting eye for both handsome staging and harrowing details. Once again lensed by the filmmaker’s regular cinematographer Jens Harant, The Silent Revolution not only looks the period part but comes cloaked in appropriately stifling grey hues, although its occasional nods to religious symbolism are immensely heavy-handed. It’s when the film burrows into the everyday ramifications of the teenagers’ two minutes of silence, and of living in East Germany’s restrictive atmosphere, that it hits the mark, however.

Director Lars Kraume's 'The Silent Revolution'. Director Lars Kraume's 'The Silent Revolution'. | © The Silent Revolution Every shot of its characters going about their lives offers a portrait of human existence forced into oppressive confines and struggling to cope — whether depicting the two young protagonists fighting over the extent of their stance, or classmate Lena (Lena Klenke) making romantic decisions based on her principles, or contrasting the very different family situations that Theo and Kurt hail from. The usually outspoken, irreverent former is the son of an unhappy steelworker (Ronald Zehrfeld) who urges him to savour his education and the opportunities it’ll afford, while the typically polite, mild-mannered latter is the offspring of a local Communist leader (Max Hopp) who’s aware of the cost of survival in the current regime.
 
Accordingly, The Silent Revolution dives deep into divides of the big and small, straightforward and complex, and physical, emotional and ideological kind —and while the movie throws up few surprises, even as it exposes a particular event that’s hardly well-known, it still has the requisite impact. In addition to Kraume’s solid direction, it’s a film that’s aided by its well-suited cast, especially its younger players. Zehrfeld and Hopp both leave the biggest impression among the adults, other than Triebel’s decidedly one-note interrogating bureaucrat, but Scheicher, Gramenz and Dassler all express the enormous weights loaded onto their characters’ shoulders in aptly varying ways. Fittingly, all three also excel when they’re tasked with saying little.

The Silent Revolution is the Opening Night Film of the 2018 German Film Festival and will screen in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra.