Showing posts with label German. Show all posts
Showing posts with label German. Show all posts

Sunday, 16 March 2014

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Often sited as one of the greatest horror films of the silent era, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a 1920 German movie and a prime example of German Expressionism. Written by first time screenwriters Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer, the script is generally considered to feature the first twist ending in cinematic history. The main thrust of the story is presented in flashback in which a young man called Francis (Friedrich Fehér) recounts a series of terrible murders that took place in the small town of Holstenwall. His story speaks of a Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) who, at a local fair, unveils a fortune telling somnambulist (sleep-walker) whom he is able to control using hypnosis. When murder strikes the small town, the finger is pointed at Caligari and his attraction.

This movie is one which I’ve wanted to see for several years and heard nothing but good things about. It’s with regret then that I have to report that I was often bored by the story. Ending aside, I found it dull and was too often confused by developments. I’m certainly going to pin some of the blame on a poor quality DVD which I bought from the normally reputable Fopp but even seeing through this, I didn’t fall in love with the film. Despite my lack of enjoyment with regards to the plot, the film has much to offer even the most casual film buff.

Monday, 15 July 2013

The Edukators

The Edukators is a sociological thriller about three young anti-capitalists who get in way over their heads after a botched break-in. Peter (Stipe Erceg) and Jan (Daniel Brühl) are a pair of idealistic young wannabe revolutionaries, living in near squalor in the centre of Berlin. In the evenings they scope out large houses in the suburbs which they break into. Rather than stealing what they find inside, the pair instead moves the furniture and expensive consumer items around, messing with the minds of the rich inhabitants and leaving a note saying something along the lines of “Your days of plenty are coming to an end”. They call themselves ‘The Edukators’. With Peter in Barcelona, Jan becomes friendlier with Peter’s girlfriend Jule (Julia Jentsch) after the pair had previously been rather standoffish with each other. Jule explains how her life is being ruined by a debt owed to a rich man following a car crash and Jan decides to do something about it, bringing Jule into ‘The Edukators’ without Peter’s knowledge.

The Edukators is a fascinating thriller which bought out the old Commie in me. I was on the group’s side, finding myself nodding along to their rants about consumerism and third world debt while I sat on my leather sofa, watching my flat screen TV. The film bought out something in me which I’ve lost in recent years, my youthful anger at the world. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still angry but these days my anger is focussed at religion and stupidity rather than poverty and injustice. This movie bought that back.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

In Darkness

Based on true events, 2011 Polish film In Darkness focuses on life in Nazi Occupied Poland during the Second World War. Leopold Socha (Robert Więckiewicz) is a sewer worker and part time thief who hides his horde of ill gotten goods in the sewers beneath the streets of Lwow. While in the sewers on day he comes across a group of freshly escaped Jews who have bored a hole through the ground from their Ghetto above. After threatening to turn them in for a reward, Socha instead agrees to help them in return for an even larger fee. For over a year he attempts to keep ‘His Jews’ hidden while living off the funds they provide him.  

In Darkness was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Oscar and was met with wide critical acclaim upon its release. The film is deeply harrowing and manages to create well rounded characters in both the Jews and Poles but unfortunately it lives in the shadows of Schindler’s List which has covered most of the ideas before.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013


Lore (pronounced Laura) is an Australian-German co production set in the Spring of 1945. As World War Two comes to an end, a young woman finds her world turned upside down as everything she believed to be true, turns out to be false. Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) is the teenage daughter of hard-line Nazis whose parents leave to go into hiding as the Allies tighten their net around Germany. Lore is left to look after herself and four younger siblings in a Germany in which their Aryan superiority is now a handicap. As the children set out for the weeks long walk towards their Grandmother’s house in Hamburg they are followed by a young man called Thomas (Kai Malina) who occasionally helps them but turns out to be a Jew, recently freed from a camp.

I’d never heard of this film until two nights ago when I was watching last week’s Film 2013 and it got a glowing review. Knowing my girlfriend and I were heading into the city centre the next day we decided to see it at our local art house cinema on the recommendation of the TV critics. I’m glad that we did. I found Lore to be a compelling coming of age drama and a fresh story set in a micro world around a much farmed era of film making.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Even Dwarfs Started Small

The second feature film from acclaimed art-house Director Werner Herzog, 1970’s Even Dwarfs Started Small is an extremely weird metaphor for Western Society set in a world in which everyone is a dwarf. On a remote Mediterranean Island sits an asylum in which the inmates have taken control. With their leader held hostage by the Director inside the building, the inmates cause havoc outside, gleefully smashing windows, killing animals, burning plants, teasing the two blind inmates and abandoning a van which drives around and around in circles.

I’m a big fan of Herzog’s but haven’t enjoyed all of his films. Even Dwarfs Started Small is an example of a film that I did enjoy but I’m not totally sure why. My mouth was agape as the strange actions unfolded and it makes for compelling viewing. The fact that every actor is a dwarf helps to add to the strangeness but even had the actors been of average height, this film would still rank as one of the craziest and unusual films I’ve seen.

Saturday, 19 January 2013


Fritz Lang’s first sound film and his penultimate German movie, M is loosely based on a number of serial killers in 1920s Germany. The people of Berlin are in a state of mob like panic as an unknown man is killing little girls in the city. Everyone is a suspect and the police are getting nowhere despite thousands of (conflicting) eye witness testimonies. With unwanted attention falling on the ‘innocent’ criminal fraternity, local crime bosses take it upon themselves to capture the killer and use the large homeless and beggar community as their spies, watching little girls in the hope of discovering the man behind the attacks.

M is often, and rightly, considered as one of the first masterpieces of the sound era. Not only is it a terrific, tense and surprisingly violent film but its use of sound is up there with the best of the period. Realising that sound could be used for more than mere dialogue Lang employs it as part of the plot and has sound off screen along with long periods of silence interrupted by loud noises which together with a deep and complex score and haunting whistle help to make M one of the best of the early talkies. The film also features Lang’s famed use of light and shadow and a fantastic central performance from Peter Lorre.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Iron Sky

In 1945 the Nazis went to the Moon, in 2018 they’re coming back. The film with possibly the best tagline of 2012 turns out to be pretty much what I expected, a nice idea which is overstretched, a film which can’t sustain itself for a full 90 minutes and unfortunately a film that isn’t enough fun. In planning and development for around six years, the trailer was first taken to Cannes in 2008 in order to drum up finance and that’s when I first heard about it. After four years of excitement the end product is a little bit of a let down but I have to commend the Finnish film makers for their tenacity and drive.

The plot can be pretty much explained by the tagline but there is a little more to it. The Nazis have been living on the dark side of the Moon since 1945 and are preparing an invasion. When America’s Sarah Palin-esque President (Stephanie Paul) sends a mission to the Moon in order to win an election, the astronauts come across the Nazi Moon base and one of them (Christopher Kirby) is taken in and interrogated. Earthologist (Julia Dietze) takes an interest in the Earth man but her fiancé and future Fuhrer (Gotz Otto) has plans for world domination and leads a small expeditionary force to Earth ahead of the main attack.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Black Book

Paul Verhoeven’s tale of injustice, romance, duplicity and war is one of just a handful of films I’ve watched twice this year. I saw it first in early January and was blown away by the story and acting and jumped at the chance to watch it for a second time. Carice van Houten, best known to English speaking audiences as fiery Priestess Melisandre in Game of Thrones plays a young Jewish woman in hiding from the Nazis in the Dutch countryside towards the end of the Second World War. After her hiding place is destroyed and following a traumatic encounter with the Germans she joins the Dutch resistance, going undercover inside the German Headquarters in The Hague where she agrees to seduce the local commander (Sebastian Koch - The Lives of Others).

Black Book is a fantastic film which is full of moral ambiguity set in a time of deep mistrust and hardship. One of the greatest things about it is that very few characters can be described as good or bad. The vast majority of the large cast of characters lie in a grey area somewhere in between and I think this adds reality to the film. The film bravely suggests that not all Nazis were bad and that not every resistance fighter was good or moral. There is a great deal of anti-Semitism even amongst the so called good guys. It’s an interesting idea which works incredibly well and helps to keep the viewer on their toes.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Kings of the Road

“The Yanks have colonized our subconscious"

Bruno (Rudiger Vogler) is a Cinema projector repair man who travels from town to town along the West and East German border repairing old cinema projectors. One day while shaving by the side of a road, a man drives his car at high speed into a lake, gets out and walks over to Bruno. Bruno, not knowing what else to do laughs at the man and offers him some clean clothes. The man, Robert (Hanns Zischler) hitchhikes with Bruno from town to town beginning a strange and often uneasy friendship.

The film has several themes which jump out at you and are present throughout. The first is a love of cinema and anger at what has become of the small German cinema. Most of the cinemas that Bruno visits are either badly run, have been turned into porn theatres or are closed altogether. This is director Wim Wenders way of showing viewers what is happening to small cinemas. It is a problem which over thirty years later is still present in my own country. Occasionally Bruno will come across a small, old theatre run by an ex Nazi that is run with care and dedication. A place where old, noisy machines are used by artisan projectionists to show the great classics of the 50s and 60s but generally he deals with people who have no interest in film or it’s proper projection. This film is very much a love letter to film.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

The Lives of Others

The Lives of Others is a fantastic thriller set in 1980’s East Germany. Stasi officer, Weisler (Ulrich Muhe) is ordered to spy on playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) by his superiors. Dreyman’s apartment is bugged and Weisler sits upstairs for hours on end, listening to everything that is said and done below him. Weisler soon discovers that the surveillance is down to one of his superiors infatuation with Dreyman’s girlfriend, the actress Christa Sieland, but nonetheless continues with his round the clock surveillance. Weisler, married to his job and with no life outside of it becomes intrigued by the lives of the artists who he is listening to, hearing literature and music which is completely new to him. He begins to suspect that the whole operation is an abuse of power and has to choose whether to continue to be honest in his accounts of what is going on in the apartment below him.

The film is acted with great aplomb. Muhe gives the standout performance however. He is mostly stoic and expressionless which makes the very occasional outbursts of emotion that much more unexpected. His performance reminds me most of Gary Oldman’s in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It is the merest movement of a lip or raising of an eyebrow that gives away his feelings and emotions and is a wonderful performance. Sebastian Koch is also very good, playing the playwright who is under observation and Ulrich Tukur and Thomas Thieme are both well cast as the archetypal villains of the piece, playing the roles of a senior Stasi officer and Government official respectably.  

The film’s great strength is its subtlety and the way the tension creeps up on the audience without being obvious. Again, I have to compare the film to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in this respect. There is little in the way of action but the audience are kept waiting, on the edge of their seats for the story to play out. It is masterful story telling that is wonderfully directed by von Donnersmarck.  

Additional – For a review of a tragi-comedy film featuring the same events click here.


Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Good Bye, Lenin!

I first attempted to watch this film eight years ago when it was shown to us on my first day of University. Unfortunately that day there was a problem with the projector and the film cut out half way through. Here I am, eight years later having finally finished it with a review.

I think that the idea behind the film is brilliant. It is 1989 in East Berlin and a hard line Communist mother watches as her son is arrested for taking part in a reunification rally. Upon seeing his arrest, the mother has a heart attack and falls into a coma. Eight months pass by during which the Berlin Wall falls and capitalism sweeps through East Berlin, which is now reunified with the west. When the mother eventually wakes up she is in a very fragile state and her son is told that any excitement or surprises could kill her. He then has to try to maintain the lie that East Berlin is still under control from Moscow in an attempt to keep his mother alive.

The film is quite funny in places and interesting throughout. I felt that about fifteen minutes could have been cut from the middle third as it sags slightly there but then it builds up to a tremendous final half hour. Some of the lengths the son goes to, to maintain the lie are extraordinary but two in particular stand out. He uses his budding film director friend to make up eight months of news and also borrows an ex-Cosmonaught turned taxi driver for an emotional and loving scene.

The acting is very naturalistic. The whole cast seem very at ease and almost unaware that the camera is on them. East Berlin (one of my favourite places) looks great. We don’t see much of it but what we do see are the brutal Communist buildings that give it its signature look.

Part of what remains of the wall today. Taken by me in 2010

Overall, Good Bye, Lenin! Is an interesting film with some funny moments and a lot of heart. There is enough politics in there for people who are interested in the reunification but not too much so that it would overpower it for those who are not.

Aditional - For a review of the Oscar winning The Lives of Others, which has shares a time and place with this film, click here. 


Wednesday, 1 February 2012


Unknown is a smart and interesting psychological thriller set in modern day Berlin. It stars Liam Neeson as Dr. Martin Harris, who along with his wife arrives in Berlin for a Biotechnology summit. Things start to go wrong for Dr. Harris though when the taxi he is riding in plunges off a bridge and into a river. When he wakes up in hospital four days later he has trouble remembering what happened and worse still, his wife doesn’t recognise him and is with another Dr. Martin Harris.

The film follows Neeson on his quest to uncover the facts behind his memory loss and stolen identity. While Neeson does nothing out of the ordinary, he is suited to the role. (To see Neeson in his best role for a long time click here). Along the way Neeson is both helped and hindered by a fantastic, mostly European cast, including Diane Kruger, seen in Inglorious Basterds who is fantastic as the driver of Neeson’s ill fated taxi. Bruno Ganz, famous for playing Hitler in Downfall as well as countless YouTube parodies excels as an ex Stasi agent who helps Neeson uncover the truth. Sebastian Koch who was fantastic in Black Book and also appeared in the masterful The Lives of Others plays a Professor at the summit and he is joined by Karl Markovics from The Counterfeiters who here plays a well meaning doctor. Along with these fine European actors, Frank Langella joins the cast and the only weak link in the whole cast is January Jones of Mad Men fame who as far as I can tell must surely still be getting roles due to her looks as she is as wooden as ever here.

Another star of the film is Berlin itself which looks beautiful. Set in November, the film shows both Berlin’s famous sights as well as the grittier side which I personally love. The concrete buildings of East Berlin help to add to the coldness of the film and a car chase through snowy streets is a highlight.

The twist is not totally obvious and is left for the third act. When it does unfold it is welcomed and the whole plot falls into place. While the film is in no way perfect it is a decent thriller with enough action to go along with its fine acting. It is a far better film in my opinion than Neeson’s recent thriller Taken.