Berlinale Bloggers 2024
The Germans and their films

Charly Wierzejewski and Eva Mattes in “Supermarket” (1974). Director: Roland Klick
Charly Wierzejewski and Eva Mattes in “Supermarket” (1974). Director: Roland Klick | Photo (detail): © Filmgalerie 451

Forgotten gems: the Retrospective section is presenting gritty genre films and migrant perspectives – under the motto “An alternate cinema”

By Philipp Bühler

The Deutsche Kinemathek has been raiding its film archive again. At least that’s how it appears, bearing in mind that this year’s Retrospective section at the Berlinale is an all-German affair once again. There’s no New Hollywood, no international science-fiction as there used to be in previous editions – cut-backs have clearly been made in this area too. However, on closer inspection the motto “An alternate cinema” does in fact pique the interest. Alongside the familiar names of directors like Ulrich Schamoni, Roland Klick and Helke Sander, there are a few forgotten gems from the more esoteric depths of German filmmaking. The programme expresses this more verbosely and promises “unorthodox protagonists, idiosyncratic cinematic language, and unconventional productions from German film history that stepped outside the box”.

Genre film outside the mainstream

One film I always wanted to see was Engel aus Eisen (Angels of Iron; Federal Republic of Germany 1981), a West German film noir by Thomas Brasch, a writer who had fled the GDR. Brasch struggled to tolerate any system and caused a sensation when he was awarded the Bavarian Film Prize. This playful approach to genres and styles also crops up in two more Berlin films: Italian neo-realism in Zwei unter Millionen (Two Among Millions; Victor Vicas, Federal Republic of Germany 1961) with a young Hardy Krüger, a bit of Nouvelle Vague in Will Tremper’s airport elegy Die endlose Nacht (The Endless Night; Federal Republic of Germany 1963). Most films in the section – if you want to pin down a common theme – were probably destined to fit neither the mainstream category nor the celebrated Neuer Deutscher Film genre with directors such as Werner Herzog, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Wim Wenders. Conflict with the funding bodies at the time drove Roland Klick – long decried as a genre filmmaker and represented here with his magnificently gritty parable of petty crime Supermarkt (Supermarket; BRD 1974) – into exile in Ireland.

Women’s films with scandal potential

Having been allocated their own Retrospective section in 2019, women – who face more difficulties as filmmakers – are once again strongly represented. Even the title of Helke Sander’s Die Deutschen und ihre Männer – Bericht aus Bonn (The Germans and their Men – a Report from Bonn; Federal Republic of Germany 1989), obviously a satirical report, seems bang-on in this context. Shirins Hochzeit (Shirin’s Wedding; Federal Republic of Germany 1976), directed by Helma Sanders-Brahms, is certainly more serious: the story of a young Turkish girl who is looking for her fiancé but ends up being controlled by a pimp, gave rise to protests in Turkey and then in Germany as well. Further migrant perspectives on Germany are shown in Im Land meiner Eltern (In the Country of my Parents; Jeanine Meerapfel, Federal Republic of Germany 1981) and the German-Anatolian low-budget comedy Kismet, Kismet (Ismet Elçi, Federal Republic of Germany 1987). But what’s the story behind Banale Tage (Banal Days; Germany 1991)? A comedy about the chaos at the time of German Reunification from the perspective of two teenagers from East Berlin, according to the billing. At any rate, we are apparently guaranteed some thrilling days at the Berlinale thanks to these movie treasures from the past century.