The world loves its share of Beethoven, driving BMWs and consuming Black Forest cake. These German products are definitely in demand. But what about movies?
Berlin, June 24th, 2020. Update: January 22nd, 2021 (The Berlin Spectator) — People who have a general issue with German films probably have not watched the most impressive ones. The following ten movies represent the (many) best ones made in the land of cuckoo clocks and liverwurst.
MOGADISCHU (‘Mogadischu’), 2008
This TV production tells the true story of the 1977 hijacking of a Lufthansa aircraft full of passengers by Palestinian terrorists, and the liberation of the victims by the ‘GSG9’ elite police unit at Mogadishu Airport. The script and implementation are excellent. Director Roland Suso Richter did a brilliant job. So did all actresses and actors involved. Especially Christian Berkel, who plays Chancellor Schmidt, and Herbert Knaup as police officer Ulrich Wegener delivered unforgettable performances. This motion picture got several well-deserved awards, including the German Television Prize.
TWO TIMES LOTTE (‘Das doppelte Lottchen’), 1950
Josef von Bakys converted Erich Kästner’s book into a film the minute it was released 70 years ago. The plot: Two girls who look the same meet each other at a holiday camp. They find out they are twins and teach their separated parents a lesson. Kästner himself wrote the script for the motion picture, which got the ‘Bundesfilmpreis’ (‘Federal Film Prize’). This movie represents many German film classics produced during the 1950s.
DAS BOOT (‘Das Boot’), 1981
Director Wolfgang Petersen was responsible for this film adaption of Lothar-Günther Buchheim’s novel. It is a compressed account of the author’s time as a war reporter during WWII. This motion picture was nominated for six Oscars and the Golden Globe when it was released. Director Petersen became a Hollywood star with this anti-war drama. Several actors, including Herbert Grönemeyer, became stars in Germany, while the man who delivered the most impressive performance, Jürgen Prochnow, already was and still is. There are several versions of ‘Das Boot’, including a ‘Director’s Cut’ released in 1997. By now there is also a newly produced series with the same plot and title.
THE LIVES OF OTHERS (‘Das Leben der Anderen’), 2006
This obvious candidate is the first major motion picture by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who also wrote the script. It dealt with an important chapter of recent German history. Set in East Berlin, this movie tells the story of a state security agent who observes an author the communist GDR does not trust. To Captain Wiesler, the case becomes an obsession. ‘The Lives of Others’ was drowned in awards. For the ‘German Film Prize’ it got as many as eleven nominations and ended up with seven actual prizes.
THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX (‘Der Baader Meinhof Komplex’), 2008
This truly impressive piece of work by Bernd Eichinger is about the extremist left-wing group RAF which terrorized West Germany in the 1970s. The script was based on a book about the RAF by Stefan Aust. The film tells the story about the beginnings of the terror group, the murders and other activities of its most prominent members, their arrests and suicides. The acting job delivered by people like Martina Gedeck, Johanna Wokalek, Moritz Bleibtreu and many others is nothing less than stunning. So is the entire motion picture.
CHRISTIANE F. (‘Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo’), 1981
This shocking drama tells the true story of young drug addicts in West Berlin. It is based on the book of the same title which quotes Christiane Felscherinow. She actually was in that situation. Her friends introduce her to drugs. Once her addiction is out of control, she becomes a prostitute at age 14, just like her boyfriend. In the course of her time around West Berlin’s train station ‘Bahnhof Zoo’, several acquaintances and her best friend die from drug abuse. Christiane’s mother notices her daughter’s addiction very late. This movie was taken over by director by Uli Edel just before the shooting commenced. The first director quit after a big argument with the production company. David Bowie is part of the film. So is his hit ‘Heroes’ which became some kind of a hymn to his fans.
THE TIN DRUM (‘Die Blechtrommel’), 1979
Released in 1979, ‘The Tin Drum’ by Volker Schlöndorff is the film adaption of Günter Grass’ book. In Gdansk, Mrs. Matzerath gives birth to a boy they call Oscar. He seems like a skeptic from the start. At age 3, he decides to stop growing by falling down the stairs to the basement on purpose. With his new tin drum, he protests against the “adult world” which includes sex affairs in his family, and the Nazis. After the war, Oscar decides he wants to grow after all. ‘The Tin Drum’ was the first German motion picture to get the Oscar as ‘Best Foreign Language Film’.
THE LEGEND OF PAUL AND PAULA (‘Die Legende von Paul und Paula’), 1973
This GDR production is a dramatic love story. Paul, who is being cheated on by his wife, and Paula, a single lady with children, meet at a bar. At first, they are having an affair. Later, they notice they are in love, but it is too late. The GDR regime almost banned this movie which was filmed in Potsdam. But dictator Erich Honecker decided the country’s youth needed to watch it.
SOPHIE SCHOLL – THE LAST DAYS (‘Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage’), 2005
This impressive motion picture tells the true story of a big heroine, namely Sophie Scholl who was part of the resistance group White Rose in Nazi Germany. At Munich University, she distributes leaflets on which the organization slams the Nazi regime, its brutality and the systematic killing of Jews. Sophie, her brother and another young man get caught, they are being arrested, sentenced to death by a notorious Nazi judge and executed immediately. The British Royal Air Force later dropped leaflets with the heroes’ texts over German cities. Julia Jentsch, who plays Sophie School, did an amazing job. ‘Sophie Scholl – The Last Days’ was nominated for an Oscar.
FEAR EATS THE SOUL (‘Angst essen Seele auf’), 1974
This is a truly wonderful one. Released in 1974, it tells the story of the elderly lady Emmi Kurowski who falls in love with the Moroccan Ali. The unconventional couple is forced to deal with anger, racism and other kinds of hatred. Both the late Brigitte Mira and El Hedi Ben Salem, who play the main characters, did an excellent job. So did the man behind this motion picture, namely the late Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Salem committed suicide in a French jail cell in 1977. Fassbinder died of an overdose in 1982, at age 38, and Mira died in 2005. She was 95.