Monday, 16 May 2016

Films #37 + #38: Victoria (15) and Sophie Scholl (PG)

Victoria (15) 

Released: 2015 
Directed by: Sebastian Schipper

Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (PG)

Released: 2005
Directed by: Marc Rothemund
Original title: Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tagen 

I appear to have missed the boat on writing about Victoria – I actually watched it when it first came out at the start of April, but didn’t manage to write anything before I took off to Japan for a month. My review wouldn’t have been very long anyway because it would be very easy to spoil the plot. In a nutshell, Victoria (Laia Costa), a Spanish woman working in Berlin, befriends a group of German guys as she prepares to head to work after a night out. Their initial chatting and flirting soon develops into something deeper and more dangerous.

I’m basically going to echo most of the other reviews I’ve read – it’s great! I liked the fact that it was shot in one take (particularly the piano playing) and really enjoyed seeing Berlin on the screen again. As a Brit and a non-native speaker of German, I also loved the way the characters swapped between German and slightly broken English. Victoria can’t understand the guys when they switch to German, and I think this works even better for audience members who speak German and aren’t relying on the subtitles to follow the film.

On the face of it, Sophie Scholl – a true story with a tragic end – has very little in common with Victoria. However, they both boast great central female performances. Set in 1943, Sophie Scholl opens with Sophie (Julia Jentsch), her brother Hans and their fellow members of the White Rose resistance group preparing texts critical of Hitler’s regime. When they run out of envelopes, Sophie and Hans offer to distribute them at their university. Thanks to an officious janitor they are quickly caught, and from here on the film mainly consists of two-handed scenes: Sophie and her interrogator; Sophie and her cellmate. In this respect it reminded me of 13 Minutes, the film about Georg Elser that I reviewed last year.

In her interrogations with Gestapo officer Mohr, Sophie denies her involvement and pretends to be apolitical. Julia Jentsch perfectly captures the emotions Sophie initially tries to suppress then allows to flow at full force once she has nowhere to run. Her objectives then switch to protecting her friends and family from a similar fate and explaining precisely why she refuses to prescribe to the Nazi world view. A final court scene is frustrating and anger-inducing as we watch one-sided “justice” being served. 

One loud and vibrant, one quiet and understated - Victoria and Sophie Scholl are both worth a couple of hours of your time.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Film #36: Der Staat gegen Fritz Bauer / The People vs. Fritz Bauer

Released: 2015
Directed by: Lars Kraume

Well I think it's fair to say that all my good intentions for watching lots of German films - and writing about them - went completely out the window in 2015! According to the list I made, I watched a total of 90 films last year, 32 of them in the cinema. Of those 32, only 2 were German films watched in UK cinemas, which I find a bit sad. I know there was at least 1 other German film released over here (which I missed because I was ill), but that's still a pretty poor showing. Still, maybe Deutschland 83, which began showing on British TV last Sunday, will prove really popular and prompt the showing of more German films?

Of the two films I watched in the cinema during my trip to Basel, I only wrote a full review of Er ist wieder da. My review of Der Staat gegen Fritz Bauer never fully took shape, and it was too long ago to write a detailed review now, but here are the thoughts I did manage to commit to paper: 

Der Staat gegen Fritz Bauer is the story of the man who brought Adolf Eichmann to justice, and incorporates elements of the detective novel and film noir to create an entertaining experience. I don’t know much about the real Fritz Bauer, so I can’t say whether Burghart Klaußner’s portrayal is accurate. However, the older members of the audience seemed to take really well to his performance, and I thought it was great. Faced with opposition and behind-the-scenes skulduggery from the people supposedly on his side, he is forced to resort to serious and risky measures to positively identify Eichmann and set the wheels in motion for his arrest. 

I also cannot say whether the film sticks to the real facts, but I believe the plot is a realistic depiction of the struggles Bauer faced in bringing high-ranking Nazis to justice. In the film, he is aided by Karl Angermann, a composite character invented for the film to reflect aspects of Bauer’s various colleagues. Angermann also has his secrets, and is targeted for blackmail by the people working against Bauer. This is the aspect of the film that could negatively affect its certification if released in the UK - there is little swearing or violence, but one sexual scene would probably lead it to receive a higher rating. 

I really enjoyed the film and think it would appeal to people who would normally go to see things like Bridge of Spies. Hopefully we'll see a UK release!