Summer, in the popular imagination, is a sun-drenched, fun-filled time spent with friends and family travelling, exploring, and dreaming of the possibilities that life holds for us. It’s the days we might spend removed from the daily grind lazing at the beach, camping, or sweating in a too-hot city. Summer is also a time to enjoy cinema, whether it’s in an air-conditioned theater or in a beloved drive-in. The past decades have brought us summer films we all know and love: iconic blockbusters, tender coming-of-age tales, stories of new beginnings, and feel-good-movies to watch over and over again.
Christian Petzold’s Afire (2023), which is now in theaters, is a summer film with an existential vein. The filmmaker turned to the genre when he realized that summer films had virtually not existed in Germany since Weimar cinema. As he recently told The New York Times, “National Socialism […] destroyed everything: the German summers, the German youth, the German bodies, the poetry”. It is perhaps no coincidence that films like Fatih Akin’s In July (2000) and Andreas Dresen’s Summer in Berlin (2005) only emerged in the new millennium.
The German Film Office’s online series “Sommerfilme” presents eight under-the-radar German summer films from the past decade. In these movies, the warm season is rarely the carefree time it is supposed to be. Some films depict summer evocatively as a moment of childish adventure (Queen of Niendorf), youthful discovery (Cocoon), and longing for a different life (Neubau). In others, summer is when family tensions coalesce (Bright Nights, Summers Downstairs), tragedy and trauma unfold (The Garden, The Most Beautiful Couple), and the personal becomes political (I Was, I Am, I Will Be).
Free streaming the U.S. and Canada! Presented by the German Film Office in collaboration with the Goethe-Instituts in North America.
Thomas Arslan, Bright Nights (2017)
Ilker Catak, I Am, I Was, I Will Be (2019)
Leonie Krippendorff, Cocoon (2020)
Sonja Kröner, The Garden (2017)
Johannes Maria Schmitt, Neubau (2021)
Tom Sommerlatte, Summers Downstairs (2015)
Sven Taddicken, The Most Beautiful Couple (2018)
Joya Thome, Queen of Niendorf (2017)
Bright Nights (Helle Nächte)
Dir. Thomas Arslan
With Georg Friedrich, Tristan Göbel, Marie Leuenberger
When Michael’s father dies, he travels to Norway for the funeral and takes his estranged 14-year-old son, Luis, along. Against the backdrop of the midnight sun, father and son embark on a road trip but being together proves challenging for both. Michael is caught up in his ways and Luis resents him for his long absence. Watch the trailer.
I Am, I Was, I Will Be (Es gilt das gesprochene Wort)
Dir. Ilker Catak
With Anne Ratte-Polle, Oğulcan Arman Uslu, Godehard Giese
Opposite worlds collide when Baran, a Kurdish gigolo, meets Marion, a German airline pilot, on the beaches of Marmaris. In his pursuit of a better life in Europe, he convinces her to take him back to Germany. In what starts as a marriage of convenience, “[director Ilker] Çatak keeps the focus on a human level as the couple faces the kind of dilemmas that might have fuelled a melodrama by Douglas Sirk or Fassbinder” (Screen Daily). Watch the trailer.
Dir. Leonie Krippendorff
With Lena Urzendowsky, Jella Haase, Lena Klenke, Elina Vildanova
Nora, a shy 14-year-old Berlin girl, will never forget this way-too-hot summer. Surrounded by people with disrupted biographies, from different cultures and backgrounds, she makes her way into adulthood: she gets her first period, falls in love with another girl, learns to stand up for herself, and experiences heartbreak for the first time. When summer ends, things will never be the same again. Watch the trailer.
The Garden (Sommerhäuser)
Dir. Sonja Kröner
With Laura Tonke, Mavie Hörbiger, Thomas Loibl
It’s 1976, the first sweltering summer after overbearing matriarch Sophie has died. The family is spending the summer–like every summer–in their community garden cottage, but the dynamic has changed. As the adults argue over selling the property and the news of a murderer on the run looms ominously, the children roam the garden and watch its residents. Watch the trailer.
Dir. Johannes Maria Schmitt
With Tucké Royale, Monika Zimmering, Jalda Rebling, Minh Duc Pham
Markus works on an ostrich farm in Brandenburg and cares for his grandmother, who has dementia. He spends his time daydreaming, torn between his responsibilities and his desire for the freedom and queer glamour of city life. His moving boxes are already packed when he falls in love with Duc. Watch the trailer.
Summers Downstairs (Im Sommer wohnt er unten)
Dir. Tom Sommerlatte
With Sebastian Fräsdorf, Alice Pehlivanyan, Godehard Giese, Karin Hanczewski
Matthi, the idle son of a respected banking family, has his summer interrupted when his brother David unexpectedly shows up at the family’s vacation home on the French Atlantic coast. His carefree days by the pool are over as David forcefully reinstates their old sibling dynamic—until his girlfriend Camille sets out to rearrange the pecking order between the two brothers. Watch the trailer.
The Most Beautiful Couple (Das schönste Paar)
Dir. Sven Taddicken
With Maximilian Brückner, Luise Heyer, Leonard Kunz, Jasna Fritzi Bauer
While on a Mediterranean vacation, Malte and Liv are attacked by a group of young men, and Liv is sexually assaulted. After years trying to heal from the traumatic experience, Malte has a chance encounter with one of the perpetrators, and everything unravels as he sets out for revenge. Watch the trailer.
Queen of Niendorf (Königin von Niendorf)
Dir. Joya Thome
With Lisa Moell, Denny Sonnenschein, Salim Fazzani
Ten-year-old Lea’s summer break is looking lonely—she is not attending her usual camp and has been feeling alienated from her girlfriends. She spends time on her bike and with an older musician neighbor, and one day comes across a group of boys who have built a raft on the lake. Solitude turns to adventure as she proves herself and becomes part of their gang. Watch the trailer.