Category Archives: Germany

#319 Good Bye Lenin!

(2003, Wolfgang Becker)

“The future lay in our hands. Uncertain, yet promising”

We’ve visited one previous movie about divided Germany before here on SvTM, the surprisingly good The Lives Of Others, but there haven’t been many others since then. Perhaps now it’s time to take a look at the effects of the regime on the ordinary citizens of East Germany, specifically when the Berlin Wall fell. Perhaps it’s time to say Good Bye Lenin!

The movie is set in 1989, where we focus on young East German citizen Alex Kerner. After he attends a protest rally in October, his mother Christiane (Katrin Sass) sees him and suffers a heart attack amidst the chaos. Due to delayed medical intervention as a result of the protests, Christiane falls into a coma, with no clear indication of when she’ll come out. During her eight-month coma, the Berlin Wall falls and the reunification of Germany begins.

However, when she comes out of her coma, the doctors inform Alex that the damage to her heart is serious, and any sudden shock could potentially bring on a fatal attack. Realising that the political upheaval going on around them could be exactly the kind of shock that could affect his staunchly socialist mother, he sets about trying to concoct an elaborate lie that the Wall never fell and Germany is still divided.

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#312 Run Lola Run

Lola Rennt
(1998, Tom Twyker)

“Everything else is pure theory”

Quite often I’ll find myself amusingly pointing out how 80s certain 80s movies are. This is not a bad thing. Back To The Future is an immensely 80s movie that is also great fun. But rarely do I apply this to 90s movies. It’s rare for me to point at a movie and say “this movie is so 90s”. Trainspotting and The Matrix are rare exceptions, as is Run Lola Run, which is possibly the most 90s movie ever made.

Run Lola Run is about a woman named Lola who runs a lot in the movie. There you go, there’s your plot. Oh, okay, here’s more. Lola (Franka Potente) receives a phone call from her boyfriend (Moritz Bleibtreu), who’s gotten himself involved in some unspecified criminal scheme and now owes some gang members a large sum of money that he left sitting on the subway. Lola now has twenty minutes in which to retrieve the money, or replace it, and so she races to help him. The movie shows three attempts at this, varying in Lola’s success.

So yeah, this is the most 90s movie ever made. It’s like Trainspotting switched its drug of choice to ecstasy and slept with The Matrix, resulting in this child. It messes around with styles and genres, it has a thumping club soundtrack, it features “cool” youth as its central protagonists and goes out of its way to make itself appear as stylish as humanly possible.

And you know what? It works! That thumping club soundtrack drives the film, injecting it with so much energy that you feel the pressure of Lola’s running. You almost feel like you’re running along with her, and this feels as tense and as exciting as you’d expect it to be. It works so well in the movie’s favour since, well, most of it is about Lola racing against the clock.

There’s also some stunning cinematography on show here. The movie employs a number of different filming styles to represent different things – Lola initially running out of her apartment building is animated, scenes involving Lola’s father and his mistress are filmed in a shaky handheld camera style, some scenes are long takes, while others are heavily cut as if it was an Edgar Wright movie. It’s easy to think that this mashing of styles could potentially lead to confusion and disorientation, but it doesn’t. It instead creates a dizzying thrill ride of a movie.

Story-wise, Run Lola Run is fascinating. We never know if the three attempts Lola makes are Groundhog Day style loops, if they’re alternate realities, or if they’re simply three versions of what could have happened. Cases can be made for Lola being both aware and unaware of the different attempts – Lola is inexperienced with a gun in the first run, but is mysteriously good with one in the second – and it leaves an awful lot of unanswered questions by its end. But they’re questions that are left open to interpretation, allowing the viewer to craft theories forever over the myriad possibilities.

This is both a good and a bad thing, however. While it’s certainly good because it gives value to repeated viewings, as you can attempt to figure out the mysteries, there’s still a sense of emptiness in regards to the whole movie. It asks a lot of questions, but does it mean to ask them or are they the result of plot holes papered over by the stylish exterior?

However, this is pretty much the only complaint I have about the movie, and even then it’s pretty vague as criticisms go. On the acting front, Lola is a very likeable character and Potente is fantastic at playing the huge array of rapid-fire emotions she goes through, and carries us through the film in the best way possible. And, what can I say, I guess I like super stylish 90s movies.

Run Lola Run is fantastic. After a few weeks of tearing apart films I simply couldn’t get into, it was refreshing to watch a film that felt exciting, tense and hugely entertaining from start to finish. If, like me, you love 90s cinema, this is one you can’t miss.

Starring Franka Potente & Moritz Bleibtreu
Written by Tom Twyker
Produced by Stefan Arndt
Music by Tom Twkyer, Johnny Klimek & Reinhold Heil
Cinematography by Frank Griebe
Edited by Mathilde Bonnefoy

Favourite Scene: Too difficult to pick a single scene, but possibly the wealthy banker’s car regularly crashing into some thugs, which amused me.
Scene That Bugged Me: The bed chat was a little bizarre and unexplained.

Watch it if: You like stylish 90s movies
Avoid it if: You don’t like pounding club soundtracks driving a movie

#300 Downfall

(2004, Oliver Hirschbiegel)
Der Untergang

“The war is lost… But if you think that I’ll leave Berlin for that, you are sadly mistaken. I’d prefer to put a bullet in my head.”

Hitler parodies were everywhere on YouTube at one point. These were usually videos where Hitler would be ranting away in German while some wacky person added subtitles that suggested he was ranting about something mundane or anachronistic, such as getting his Xbox Live account banned. Well, did you know where that clip came from? It came from Der Untergang, aka Downfall, a movie about, well, Hitler’s downfall at the end of World War II.

It’s April 1945, in Berlin. Hitler (Bruno Ganz) is celebrating his birthday when suddenly loud blasts begin to rock the city. Demanding answers, Hitler discovers that the Soviets have breached German lines and are just outside the city. Determined to face off against the Soviets rather than surrender, we witness Hitler descend into madness as he deludes himself into thinking he can survive the onslaught and still win the war.

Now, there are naturally some reservations about this movie. The idea of humanising Hitler and setting a movie based on his perspective of the decisive Battle Of Berlin is one that not a lot of people particularly like the idea of. There are plenty that say that presenting Hitler as human is an insult to all who lost their lives in the Holocaust, and all those who fought to take him down.

However, Hitler was a real person, not some fairy tale monster made up to scare Jewish children, and a portrayal of him as human is a better lesson for humanity than acting like nobody else is capable of what he did. So here it is, a human portrayal of Hitler, showing him as a flawed human being with twisted thoughts and a complete lack of compassion and empathy. It’s a portrayal of humanity at its darkest, and we need that.

And Bruno Ganz nailed it. His performance is excellent throughout. Hitler is presented as this twitchy, uncomfortable little man with not an ounce of empathy in him. He is quick to anger, makes irrational decisions and deludes himself of his own greatness. He’s not particularly nice, and even in moments where he begins to appear rational and sensible, he’ll start to spout off some nonsense about how proud he is to have eradicated so many Jews. Essentially, he’s portrayed as someone you don’t really want to spend much time with.

The problem is, Hitler’s portrayal is pretty much the only good thing about the movie. The rest of it is a plodding mess that makes me question exactly what it’s trying to achieve. It’s a movie that shows a flawed human version of Hitler in the midst of scenes of concerned looking Germans not saying anything to each other, or at the very least debating whether or not they should leave Berlin, over and over.

The problem is, the many generals and staff under Hitler’s command (and I mean MANY), are not even remotely fleshed out in the way Hitler himself is. As such, everyone tends to bleed together as a single autonomous unit called “the people who aren’t Hitler”. Sure, you can tell them apart physically – there’s the fat one, the creepy-looking one, the stern one, the doe-eyed secretary and the other secretary (I think she was a secretary), but good luck remembering any of their names. Oh, and there’s Eva Braun, but she’s just kind of there because she was Hitler’s wife, but she’s got just as much personality as the rest of them.

The problem is, so much screen time is dedicated to these personality-free extras that the movie feels utterly pointless much of the time. And for a movie about Hitler’s downfall, it’s odd that Hitler kills himself (not a spoiler!) 40 minutes before the movie ends, leaving us with over half an hour of faceless characters running around trying not to get shot…and often getting shot. Repeatedly.

Downfall would be a great movie if it stuck to its guns and retained some level of focus. As it is, its determination to get every tiny little detail, however insignificant, into it 150-minute running time is tiresome and dull. Stick with a story about Hitler and we’ll be in a better place. And to highlight my displeasure with the movie, I’m going to make a Hitler Rants video. Bye!

Starring Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara, Ulrich Matthes, Corinna Harfouch, Juliane Köhler & Thomas Kretschmann
Written by Joachim Fest & Bernd Eichinger
Produced by Bernd Eichinger
Music by Stephan Zacharias
Cinematography by Rainer Klausmann
Edited by Hans Funck

Favourite Scene: The famous Hitler rant is probably the best part of the movie for many reasons. Even if you don’t find it a good scene on its own merits, at least it’s easy to turn off subtitles and imagine a comedy reason for Hitler’s rants.
Scene That Bugged Me: Why does the movie just keep going after Hitler’s death? Why won’t it end?!

Watch it if: You really need to complete your collection of movies giving an account of World War II
Avoid it if: You came here for Hitler’s suicide and expect it to be over by then

#294 The Marriage Of Maria Braun

(1979, Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
Die Ehe der Maria Braun

“Most happy people look indecent when one is unhappy”

Two films ago we looked at a German movie set vaguely around war but not actually about war. Well, it seems like there’s a theme developing because here’s another one! Today, we’re taking a look at influential German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder and his movie The Marriage of Maria Braun.

As you would imagine from the title, the movie is about Maria Braun (Hanna Schygulla), who gets married to Hermann, a soldier during World War II. After spending half a day and a whole night together, Hermann returns to the front, leaving the marriage unfulfilled. The film tracks the time of the marriage, during which Maria takes on a series of extramarital relationships, all for the benefit of her husband. It’s…that kind of movie.

The Marriage Of Maria Braun opens with a bang. No really, the first thing we see is an explosion as the war comes to Maria’s wedding and blows off the wall of the church. It’s certainly a way to grab attention, but sadly the rest of the movie is a bit more of a whimper than a bang.

Almost immediately after this dramatic opening, the movie slides into mundane tedium as Maria goes about her daily life, albeit without her husband present because the war has split them because war is hell, don’t you know? (More movies should cover this topic, I don’t think it’s been done enough)

That said, it’s not completely tedious. There’s a murder in there somewhere, and Maria loses her mind occasionally and has outbursts about the terribleness of her life, and lots of stuff happens, but it all just feels a bit…pointless.

Don’t get me wrong. Schygulla puts in a great performance as Maria, making her as likeable as she possibly can be, but the problem is that Maria just isn’t that great a character. She sleeps around in ways that are supposedly beneficial to her marriage while showing very little in the way of morals and generally she comes across as a bit of a bitch. Not really easy to like a protagonist like this, no matter how well she’s played.

The other performances I can’t be so positive about. American characters appear to be played by Germans affecting American accents in English and struggling to maintain them. Maria’s husband is a tad generic. And Maria’s final affair is with a corporate executive so apparently evil he may as well walk around twirling his moustache.

Plot-wise, there is plenty going on, but there’s a lot of time-skips and the movie feels a tad hyperactive as a result. What’s more, by the time the plot finishes up, we’re left with a sense that while a lot happened, it was all for nothing, and not in a way that makes us think, just in a way that makes us wonder why we weren’t doing something else for the last two hours.

I also think there’s some kind of message here, possible some kind of commentary on the struggles of being a woman, especially during a time of war. Sadly, it doesn’t come across too well and more often than not I was left wondering if I was just imagining that message.

The Marriage Of Maria Braun is ultimately one of the worst films for me to review. It’s the kind of film that leaves me feeling absolutely nothing at all by the time it ends. It’s not incredibly bad, but it’s also not particularly good either. It’s just kind of there, doing things and maybe trying to impart a message, but not communicating it very well.

Starring Hanna Schygulla, Klaus Löwitsch, Ivan Desny & Gisela Uhlen
Written by Peter Märthesheimer & Pea Fröhlich
Produced by Michael Fengler
Music by Peer Raben
Cinematography by Michael Ballhaus
Edited by Rainer Werner Fassbinder & Juliane Lorenz

Favourite Scene: Uhhh…
Scene That Bugged Me: Uhhhhh….

Watch it if: You like plodding German movies (again)
Avoid it if: You like to leave a movie with some kind of impression

#292 The White Ribbon

(2009, Michael Haneke)
Das weiße Band, Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte

The last time we encountered Michael Haneke, it was via the rather excellent Funny Games, a dark thriller that criticised the audience for being a voyeur to murder for wanting to enjoy a thriller movie. So naturally I was looking forward to this, but does it live up to expectations?

Set in the fictional German village of Eichwald in 1913, The White Ribbon follows the lives of the villagers, including a schoolteacher who has fallen in love with a young girl named Eva, a pastor who is obsessed with purity and will punish his children for minor transgressions (usually by making them wear the titular ribbon), a doctor who treats children with respect but is cruel to his wife, and various other side-plots. The whole movie hinges on a series of mysterious events in the village that lead to death, humiliation and shenanigans.

The mystery aspect of the plot certainly got me interested in the movie, with someone secretly causing bad things to happen, starting with the tripping of a horse using fine wire. The children of the movie appear to be connected somehow, but we don’t know how, and there’s definitely a certain Children Of The Corn vibe to them throughout. It was a promising start.

The problem is, there are about five movies going on at once here. We open the movie on this seemingly central “who’s causing this madness?” plot, but then this plot gets swiftly dropped and we’re just following the villagers around. This is most noticeable when the schoolteacher starts to pursue Eva and we leave the village entirely for an extended period of time so the teacher can be chastised by Eva’s father.

Things don’t get much better back in the village. Much is made of the cruel baron and the doctor being a complete bastard, but they feel so distant to the rest of the movie it makes me wonder why anyone even bothered to write these scenes. What’s more, the bombshell of the doctor’s rather awful night-time habit is dropped and then never elaborated on or explored or questioned. There he is, doing this bad thing he shouldn’t be doing, and that’s it. Also, the scenes where he openly declares his disdain for his wife’s lack of attractiveness in her “old age” cement him as an immensely unlikeable character that I want no more to do with.

The pastor’s storyline kind of fits, but it stills suffers from feeling too distant and vague. At times these scenes can get completely ridiculous, such as him tying up his son’s hands to try and stop him masturbating. The pastor seems more like a caricature of a hyper-religious nut as opposed to a real character, and I found it hard to connect with his story either.

In fact, I found it impossible to connect with any part of this movie. The mysteries that open the movie initially get me interested, but their sudden disappearance frustrates me and by the time the film ends, I’ve forgotten what was so mysterious and I forget the answers given, if any at all.

And that’s very much the problem with The White Ribbon. It struggles so much to stick to a single coherent plot thread that the viewer struggles to keep up, and as such the entire film becomes a forgettable mess of dullness.

So no, this didn’t live up to the standards set by Funny Games. Sadly.

Starring Christian Friedel, Ulrich Tukur & Josef Bierbichler
Written by Michael Haneke
Produced by Stefan Arndt, Veit Heiduschka, Michael Katz, Margaret Menegoz & Andrea Occhipinti
Cinematography by Christian Berger
Edited by Monika Willi

Favourite Scene: The general Children Of The Corn vibe, and if they’d stuck with this, I’d have enjoyed the movie more.
Scene That Bugged Me: Why don’t you tell your wife how you really feel, Mr Doctor Man?

Watch it if: You like confused German movies
Avoid it if: You’re looking for a mystery involving creepy children

#261 Das Boot

(1981, Wolfgang Petersen)
“You have to have good men”

This won’t be the first time I’ve mentioned this, but I have a special disdain for World War II movies. There are so many of them on the Movies You Must See list, more of them continue to be made to this day, and more of them continue to be praised despite them all being largely the same. There’s only so much that can be said about that conflict, and yet everyone feels the need to say something about it in film-making for some reason.

But hey, this is from the German perspective, and is set entirely on a U-Boat in the midst of the conflict. This one at least does try to do something different, so maybe it won’t be that bad?

Das Boot tells the story of U-96, a submarine in the German army during WWII. Its captain (Jürgen Prochnow) is a world-weary, cynical man who clashes with his mostly young and rowdy crew. U-96 travels around Europe attempting to take out British forces and faces hardships along the way.

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#210 & #211 Nosferatu

(1922, F.W. Murnau & 1979, Werner Herzog)

Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens

Nosferatu, Phantom der Nacht

Nosferatu is possibly one of the most famous silent movies ever made, and a massive influence on horror films for years to come. Essentially a name-swapped unofficial adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Nosferatu is one of the earliest vampire movies and certainly the most influential. But how many people are aware that it received a remake in 1979 by the equally German director Werner Herzog? Well, today we’re going to look at both and see how well they hold up.

Both films follow the story of Dracula to a tee, with a man named Jonathan Harker Thomas Hutter (Gustav von Wangeheim/Bruno Gans) receiving word that a man from Translyvania wishes to buy a property in their small town. He ventures to Transylvania, where he is met with fear from the villagers when he says he wishes to visit the mansion. At the mansion, he meets Count Dracula Orlok (Max Shreck/Klaus Kinsi), a strange-looking man who sleeps during the day and lives by night. However, once the deal is done, a reign of terror falls on our hero’s peaceful town when the curse of the vampire takes over.

Basically, exactly what you’d expect from a vampire movie that doesn’t involve teenagers and sparkling. Both are pretty standard stories and don’t really hold many surprises today. But they are mildly entertaining.

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#207 Funny Games

(1997, Michael Haneke)

“You’re on their side, aren’t you? So who will you bet with?”

Funny Games. Oh good, another comedy, and potentially one about a family sitting around and playing board games. Sounds like a lovely film. Wait, why’s that man being hit with a golf club? Why’s that woman being tied up with duct tape? Oh god, what is this film? What have I done? Seems that Funny Games is not a happy comedy about board games and is, in fact, a movie about pointless, unprovoked violence. Lovely!

So, we have a wealthy German family. The dad is Georg (Ulrich Muhe), the mum is Ana (Susanne Lothar) and they have a son called Georgy (Stefan Clapczynski). They’re on holiday in a really pretty lakehouse out in the countryside. They get visited by a young man called Jerry (Frank Giering), who says he’s a friend of their neighbour. After requesting some eggs and then causing havoc with them, his friend (Arno Frisch) arrives, and they reveal their names to really be Peter and Paul respectively. They’re also a little creepy, and things soon take a turn for the worse…

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#183 M

(1931, Fritz Lang)

“I have no control over this evil thing inside of me”

M is one of those old films I’d vaguely heard of in the past. I knew it was the first sound movie by Metropolis director Fritz Lang, and I knew it had Peter Lorre in it, a German actor well-known for his many roles alongside Humphrey Bogart. But that was all I knew, so it’ll be interesting to see what I think of this.

M is set in an unnamed city where children are being abducted and killed, and the police are at a complete loss about what to do due to lack of clues. To combat this, they put the entire city on lockdown, conducting random searches and treating everyone as a possible suspect. The criminal underworld naturally don’t like this as it gets in the way of their “business transactions”, leading them to start an investigation of their own, creating a lynch mob in the process. And shenanigans happen.

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#148 Metropolis

(1927, Fritz Lang)

“The mediator between the head and hands must be the heart”

What’s the most influential sci-fi movie ever made? Most modern audiences would suggest the likes of Star Wars or Blade Runner, or even go as far as suggesting The Matrix. 2001: A Space Odyssey would be likely to crop up in the discussion too. But what about the movie that started it all? The first major sci-fi epic, made during the silent era: Metropolis.

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