Beating the boredom
The best German-language streaming entertainment
From Netflix and Stan to Amazon and SBS On Demand, here’s where you can watch the best German-language movies and television series if you are stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic.
By Sarah Ward
German-language movies may only brighten up Australia’s big screens a few times each year, via film festivals and select cinematic releases; however streaming platforms are increasingly filling the gap. And, at a time when spending more time indoors isn’t just a preference but a crucial government request, online services are fast becoming every cinephile’s go-to source of entertainment — and every German-language fan’s as well.
From gripping TV series to new and classic movies, here is the best German-language fare that is currently available to stream across Australia.
SBS on Demand
Christian Petzold may have adopted Paula Beer as his latest muse — as seen in this year’s Berlinale competition film Undine and his previous feature Transit (also available to stream on SBS On Demand) — but his work with Nina Hoss will always rank among the acclaimed filmmaker’s best. And, while there’s no wrong choice among their shared projects, Silver Bear-winner Barbara typifies the director and actress’ collaborations at their most moving, complex, ruminative and engaging. Set in East Germany in 1980, Hoss plays a rural doctor under surveillance for asking to leave the country.
Stations of the Cross
Before Stations of the Cross, writer/director Dietrich Brüggemann helmed and co-wrote three other features (all co-scripted with his sister Anna Brüggemann); however this sombre, contemplative and impactful 2014 drama instantly became his statement piece. As told over 14 fixed long takes each named after the titular stations Jesus experienced on his path to Mount Calvary, this striking film follows a Catholic teenager (Lea van Acken) from a strict and radical religious family who desperately hopes that her own self-discipline will inspire God to cure her autistic brother.
When a film or TV series announces a timeline or deadline in its title, something dramatic, drastic and life-changing is typically afoot. In the case of 8 Days, an asteroid will plummet to earth and wipe out western Europe — including Germany — when the period is up. That leaves the Steiner family with just over a week to try to flee to Russia, with this unsurprisingly bleak apocalyptic thriller charting their efforts not just to escape, but to survive. Fittingly, this television mini-series unfurls over eight episodes, honing in not only on the science fiction-tinged scenario or the existential chaos it causes, but on the people caught in the midst of both.
As well as inspiring intriguing sequels and terrible remakes, Wim Wenders’ 1987 masterpiece Wings of Desire may just be the quintessential Berlin-set film, exploring the then still-divided city through the eyes of an angel (Bruno Ganz) toying with relinquishing his immortality in the name of love. Winning the Best Director prize at Cannes, it’s as melancholy and bittersweet a journey as one can take through the German capital, and perfectly shot and acted to match — with the sight of Ganz sitting atop the golden angel on the Berlin Victory Column one of cinema’s most iconic images.
M — The City Hunts a Murderer
First released 89 years ago, Fritz Lang’s M remains one of the landmark films of German cinema — and, with its serial killer-focused thrills, a hefty influence over the entire crime genre on both the big and small screens around the world. It has been remade before thanks to Joseph Losey’s 1951 Los Angeles-set film of the same name; however M — The City Hunts a Murderer updates the tale to modern-day Vienna. Here, across six-episodes starring Moritz Bleibtreu, Lars Eidinger and Udo Kier, a child goes missing on a wintry day, with the police scrambling to chase any and every lead as similar cases grow.
In a German interrogation room, police detectives sit across the table from a suspect, attempting to squeeze the truth out of the accused perpetrator during a verbal game of cat-and-mouse. That’s the premise of Netflix’s Criminal: Germany, with Nina Hoss, Peter Kurth, Sylvester Groth and Florence Kasumba among the actors on both sides of the law-and-order divide. The three German episodes also slot into the broader Criminal anthology series, which spans 12 installments spread across four countries, including France, Spain and the United Kingdom.
Following a workaholic business consultant (Sandra Hüller) who’s hardly thrilled when her father (Peter Simonischek) arrives for a spontaneous visit, Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann dives so deeply into family awkwardness — the unspoken discomfort simmering between these daughter-dad duo, specifically — that the resulting dramas span nearly three hours. But not a second is wasted in this superb character study, which finds an ideal and insightful balance between delving into complicated interpersonal issues and finding humour in complex dynamics, with Hüller, the especially memorable Simonischek and writer/director Ade all at the top of their game.
Winning Diane Kruger the Best Actress prize at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival and picking up the 2018 Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film, Fatih Akin’s In the Fade doesn’t shy away from the impact of far right-wing terrorism across Europe — including the physical and fatal consequences, the enormous ongoing toll upon those who lose loved ones, and the justice system’s response. Astonishingly considering her high-profile career, this is Kruger’s first starring role in her native language; however she’s an emotional powerhouse as a woman whose life is completely torn apart after a bombing attack.
German filmmaker Valeska Grisebach heads to Bulgaria, to a small, remote village near the Greek border, for her quietly potent, commandingly lensed third feature — and into the lives of German construction workers brought in to build a hydroelectric plant. Focusing on strong, silent type Meinhard (Meinhard Neumann) as he wades through multiple work issues and ekes out what enjoyment he can — by riding a horse owned by a local man — Western doesn’t wear its eponymous genre like a glove, but smartly and engagingly applies its trademarks in its own way.
One-season Amazon series Beat boasts a thumping soundtrack, as is to be expected given its subject matter. Set in Berlin’s club and nightlife scene, it follows the ups and downs of the titular promoter and party fiend (Jannis Niewöhner), whose life changes when he’s recruited by the European Secret Services as an undercover operative. As well as Timeless trilogy star Niewöhner, the well-cast series also features The Little Witch’s Karoline Herfurth, The Criminalist’s Christian Berkel and A Hidden Life’s Alexander Fehling.
Still haven't found what you are looking for? Maybe it's time to try out Goethe-Institute's Onleihe for a range of free, streamable movies and TV shows from the German-language world.