Annual Review 2018: The year in German cinema

3 Days in Quiberon
3 Days in Quiberon | ©3 Days in Quiberon

When the 2018 German Film Awards were held in August, one movie proved an unlikely three-time winner. Starring Cate Blanchett in multiple roles, and presented as both an art gallery installation and a film, Julian Rosefeldt's Manifesto collected the ceremony’s trophies for best production design, costumes and makeup.

The experimental effort is a worthy recipient of each — and, while the Lolas clearly don’t hand out gongs for the achievement, an apt reflection of German cinema over the past year too. While Manifesto remains a 2017 release, its fractured nature, its focus on different guises and its manifestation of multitudes speaks to an industry that continues to be many things at once.

An Oscar Hopeful

The same idea sits at the heart of Germany’s highest-profile international contender of 2018: Never Look Away. It focuses on fictional artist Kurt Barnert as a stand-in for popular painter Gerhard Richter and, across a three-decade tale, explores the intersection of art and politics.

Never Look Away Never Look Away | ©Never Look Away A movie about society’s influence upon creativity, as well as the latter’s response to the former, it’s as much a portrait of an artist as it is a chronicle of Germany’s 20th-century changes. Directed by The Lives of Others’ Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Never Look Away is also the country’s Oscar hopeful, not only selected as the Deutsch-language submission for best foreign-language film at the 2019 Academy Awards ceremony, but making the nine-title pre-nomination shortlist.

The Other Contenders

Earning the chance to represent Germany at the Oscars was no easy feat for Never Look Away, even if The Lives of Others previously won the foreign-language category in 2006. Indeed, the other ten contenders once again speak to the variety at the heart of German cinema in 2018. Hailing from both new and established talents, traversing live-action and animation alike, and offering up intimate portraits of famous figures as well as imagined love stories, there’s little that unites the likes of 3 Days in Quiberon, In the Aisles, The Silent Revolution, Transit and Tehran Taboo — or Balloon, The Captain, The Invisibles, Mack the Knife – Brecht’s Threepenny Film and My Brother Simple — other than their country of origin.

Another Big Berlinale

Some of Germany’s possible but ultimately unsuccessful submissions do share another commonality: a premiere berth at the 2018 Berlinale. The year’s festival was good to local productions, with four in the official competition. While none of 3 Days in Quiberon, In the Aisles, Transit and My Brother's Name Is Robert and He Is an Idiot emerged with the coveted Golden Bear, or any awards, they took audiences between a biopic of beloved actress Romy Schneider, the lonely souls stocking a warehouse supermarket’s shelves, a quest for freedom and a future in war-torn times, and a complicated sibling relationship.

In The Aisles In The Aisles | © In The Aisles Elsewhere the 68th annual Berlinale continued to highlight a diverse range of German efforts, spanning The Silent Revolution, Styx, Central Airport THF, Casanova Gene, Victory Day and 303, among others.

A Strong Talent Shines

If there was a definite German star at Berlinale, and across the year as a whole, then that’d be Franz Rogowski. The year’s Lola best actor winner for In the Aisles, he proved as captivating playing a man seeking a second chance in Thomas Stuber’s romantic drama — and, doing the same in a thoroughly different fashion, in Christian Petzold’s Transit as well — as he did when spied standing outside a Potsdamer Platz hotel. His quiet, thoughtful air was a perfect fit for both high-profile on-screen roles, which helped bring Rogowski to broader attention. In 2019, he’ll return to the Berlinale big screen and to the competition in Angela Schanelec’s I Was at Home, but.

Reality And Horror

With a strong focus on co-productions, Germany’s documentary prowess once again came to the fore in 2018. Many bowed at Berlinale, such as Central Airport THF, Casanova Gene and Victory Day, while Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck’s The Cleaners — about the workers tasked with policing social media platforms — went from Sundance to a plethora of international and Australian festivals. Showing the impact of seeing humanity at its worst, The Cleaners is also a horror movie of sorts, for there’s little that’s more unnerving than an unfettered stream of the world’s unfiltered thoughts.

The Cleaners The Cleaners | © The Cleaners In the traditional horror arena, the country also made a mark. After premiering in 2017, Austrian-German co-production Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse continued to receive the attention it deserves in genre circles, while demonic possession thriller Luz proved one of the year’s surprises.

Luz Luz | © Luz

All Ages Entertainment

At the local box office, the supernatural also flickered through one of the best-performing German releases of the year: The Little Witch.

The Little Witch The Little Witch | © The Little Witch The family-friendly effort was one of only three homegrown films to make the country’s top 25, after fellow all-ages title Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver and the Til Schweiger-starring and -directed Klassentreffen. Indeed, it was American and British-made movies about superheroes, sex, wizards, dinosaurs and rock stars that reigned supreme with cinemagoers, as they did in much of the world. Still, that’s a lineup with variety, 2018’s pervasive theme.