Urban Cinefile
"I thought we were only going to fight them!"  -Billy Connolly to Parachute regiment medical examiner’s observation ‘You’re not very big downstairs, are you?’
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Monday June 15, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



German cinema is enjoying a bloom of quality films as evidenced by this year’s program, which has been curated with the help of two Australian film writers & critics, under incoming Director of the Goethe Institute, Dr Arpad Sölter, reports Andrew L. Urban.

Australian film critics Peter Krausz and Richard Kuipers were two of the four selectors for this year’s Festival of German Films, joining the new director of the Goethe Institute, Dr Arpad Sölter and Dutch film curator of German films, Marietta Reisenbeck. “We had dozens of films to choose from,” says Sölter.

"‘sunshine is the best disinfectant’ "

“I want to present the program with an Australian perspective,” says Sölter. “My predecessor Klaus Krischok introduced this idea, but I have radicalised and democratised it in the sense that we all have one vote and the highest scoring films are selected.”

To his pleasant surprise, every film selected for this festival has won at least one German Film Prize, the country’s Oscars equivalent. 

The Sydney season of this years Festival of German Films will commence with a screening of Hotel Lux, a satire set in the late 1930s (see below), whilst in Melbourne, Summer Window, a romance that sees its protagonist transported to her past, will open the Festival. Brisbane’s season will open with Cracks in the Shell, a challenging psychological tale about a young actress faced with a powerful self-revelation, while the Adelaide and Perth seasons will be launched by Westwind, the story of twin sisters from East Germany whose bond is tested when they meet two young men from Hamburg during a 1988 summer camp.

Sölter says there are two reasons for different opening films in the various cities, one being sheer logistics of moving around a 35 mm print. “The other reason is that I wanted to attract attention to a bigger range of films and not create a hierarchy with one opening film at the top.”

Themes include migration, history, drama and comedy, a Swiss sci-fi film (Hell, a post apocalyptic film with simmering tension and a powerful sense of society under threat with “Great performances from Hannah Herzsprung and Angela Winkler, together with a screenplay that provides many twists and turns,” says Krausz); there is even an Australian connection (Rodicas – see below). 

In Stopped On Track, issues of mortality and coping with impending death are explored in a typically harrowing way by Andreas Desen and Combat Girls is a controversial piece about Marcia, an angry young woman who has developed a strong hatred of foreigners, Jews and anyone else who does not fit her narrow view of the world. After joining a neo-Nazi gang, a teenage girl sees her as a role model. Then Marcia meets an Afghan refugee. (The film was hotly debated by the selectors.)

"‘sunshine is the best disinfectant’ "

Several other films (eg Wunderkinder, 4 days in May, Hotel Lux, Kaddish For A Friend) tell stories that spring from WWII. Says Sölter, “Germany still struggles with its past. We carry a big back pack of horror and while some people would prefer to shut all conversation and try to forget, I believe otherwise. An Englishman once said ‘sunshine is the best disinfectant’ and I really like that idea.”

The program also includes shorts – and a retrospective on the work of famed German actor/director Leander Haußman (Hotel Lux, Robert Zimmerman is Tangled up in Love, Sun Alley), who will be a guest of this year’s event. 

Other guests include Hendrik Handloegten (Summer Window, opening film, Melbourne), and Alice Gruia, who made Rodicas, set in present day Sydney. This incisive documentary about two elderly Rumanian-Jewish women living their day to day life with a strong sense of friendship and shared experiences, one of whom is the grandmother of the director. Fresh from the 62nd Berlinale, this compelling film portrays the complex backgrounds of these two women, one who travelled to Germany before arriving in Australia, and the other travelling first to Uruguay. Their current lives are filled with fun, laughter, voluntary work, and a general sense of camaraderie. Yet their historical circumstances and cultural heritage reveal a great deal about their strong bonds. 

HOTEL LUX (Opening Film, Sydney)
Writer/director: Leander Haußmann
This farcical satire set predominantly in 1938, follows the remarkable events experienced by a comedian, impersonator and cabaret actor, played by Michael Herbig, and his encounters with communism. The film opens with Herbig stranded on the roof of the Hotel Lux, located in Moscow, and then flashes back to how he got to be there. The parody of Hitler and Stalin that Herbig and Jürgen Vogel present in the cabaret room in 1933 is hilarious but also quite prescient when their act is looked upon as seditious by the emerging Nazi regime. Herbig’s flight to Russia, and his (unplanned) impersonation of Hitler’s astrologer for a bemused group of Russians, leads to an astonishing array of events. Can he survive this outlandish situation? Notable also in the cast is Thekla Reuten (Twin Sisters, Rosenstrasse).

Captivating from its opening shot onwards, Hotel Lux is yet another – unique – tale framed in the last world war, boasting excellent performances all round in an often wry and absurdist comedy. There is a dark edge to the satire of course, and an edgy mood that makes the film gritty. Full of exquisite detail – some of it comedic, some not – Hotel Lux is sophisticated and thought provoking, multi-targeted satire.

If you think you’ve seen all the stories from/about/around the war years, you’ll be surprised.

Writer/director: Achim von Borries
And still at war, and yet another unique story - but in complete contrast: Based on actual events, this drama, set in 1945 during the closing stages of the second World War, involves a stand-off between Russian and German troops holed up around an orphanage near the Baltic coast. A 13 year old boy encounters a Russian Captain trying to protect his small troop and survive until the war ends. The boy sees it differently and challenges the Captain. Then, just as the German surrender is announced on radio, a large Russian contingent arrives … triggering an extraordinary event with deadly consequences.

Beautifully realised and told with great humanity, 4 Days in May is a fascinating, touching and astonishing story drawn from the final days of the war. A melancholy mood contrasts with the edginess of the situation and the performances are superb – including 12 year old Pavel Menzel in the key role of young Peter, the catalyst in the story.

The images and production design add immeasurably to this striking, haunting film which exposes the best and the worst of human nature.

Writer/director: Pia Strietman; writer: Lea Schmidbauer
A noted female author is killed in a car accident. What impact will this have on her husband, her older son, and her teenage daughter? How does a family respond to such a tragedy, and what is the grieving process they each go through? What begins as a gloomy drama develops into an intricately plotted observation of the foibles of human nature, and the twists and turns that happen along the way to a resolution. Indeed, is the author all she appeared to be to the family mourning her death? 

The film gets more and more interesting as it progresses, revealing layer by layer its inner core. In some respects it’s familiar territory: a grieving family discovering truths about a beloved member just deceased. In another sense, it’s about the deep bonds within a family, how they are strained by forces beyond our control and healed by the most dramatic events. Excellent performances all round.

There are 37 films in all, in one of the most diverse and expansive collections of current German films; only two titles have local distributors (Hell and Wunderkinden) the rest will only be screened in this program.

Published April 5, 2012

Email this article

Hotel Lux (Bavaria Pictures)

Sydney: 18.04. - 30.04. 2012
Chauvel Cinema / Palace Norton Street 

Melbourne: 19.04. - 30.04.2012
Palace Cinema Como / Kino Cinemas 

Brisbane: 19.04. - 25.04.2012
Palace Centro Cinema 

Adelaide: 26.04. - 01.05.2012
Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas 

Perth: 03.05. - 06.05.2012
Cinema Paradiso 

Canberra: 03.05. - 06.05.2012
National Film and Sound Archive 

4 Days in May

Family of Three

© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020