The media launch for the upcoming German Film Festival showcased 4 Kings, the feature debut from Theresa Von Eltz about four very different teenagers struggling with family-inflicted trauma who have to spend Christmas in a psychiatric emergency unit. With echoes of The Breakfast Club, the film explores the teens’ impact on each other in their recovery or otherwise. It also takes a nice perspective on the unit’s staff members, especially its risk-taking psychiatrist and the conservative head of nursing, as they clash over how much autonomy should be given to the young patients.
Von Eltz has used the notion of Christmas as the happiest time of year to underline the real tragedy of children as casualties of dysfunctional families. She offers a sensitive, layered exploration of the theme, and effectively employs cold whiteness for the movie’s elegant visuals. Though the pacing drags at times, and the character’s stories occasionally border on cliché “types”, the director has assembled a terrific cast. Jannis Niewöhner (who also appears in the fantasy Emerald Green, also at the festival) uses his natural charisma to great effect as the violent Timo. He won last year’s Berlinale Shooting Star Award, while 4 Kings co-star, Jella Haase, takes the award for 2016 to add to her fast growing TV and film accolades. But it is Paula Beer as the fragile, empathetic young Alex who is especially affecting.
4 Kings is essentially a coming of age movie, a theme that recurs through the whole festival. “I was really surprised to see how many strong films about young people there were, which has not been apparent in previous years,” festival director, Sonja Griegoschewski, tells FilmInk ahead of the media launch. “The opening night film in Melbourne is a road movie about fourteen-year-old teenagers called Goodbye Berlin. It’s directed by Fatih Akin, and is based on the cult novel, Tschick. Then there are about five others including a mystery film, Der Nachtmahr, by visual artist and filmmaker, AKIZ, about a 19-year-old being chased by a monster, and As We Were Dreaming, which is about young teens born in divided Germany and now growing up in unified Germany and how difficult that is.”
To carry on the theme, the festival also presents a kids and teens special selection of five films including the fantasy time travel story, Emerald Green, and Windstorm (the 2013 winner of the German Youth Film Award), which is about a young girl who befriends an untamed stallion.
A couple of iconic young female German figures are also featured. The Diary Of Anne Frank is directed by the award-winning Hans Steinbichler, and is the first German version of the famous memoir to make its way to the big screen. Heidi, meanwhile, is Alain Gsponer’s second adaption of Johanna Spyri’s classic novel of the same name, and also features Jella Haase.
There’s a strong female presence at this year’s festival, which Griegoschewski is proud to point out. “We have a lot of very strong and amazing women in front of and behind the camera,” she says. “In this festival, we have 35 films, with most of them Australian premieres, and ten of them by female directors. It seems to be a trend which gets stronger every year. I have to mention especially the success of Toni Erdmann by Maren Ade. It won the Critics Prize for Best Foreign Language Film at Cannes – the first feature by a female director to win the prize – and will be the German entry for the Oscars. We are especially happy because it’s a comedy, a genre that German film isn’t usually known for.”
Maren Ade, who won a Silver Bear at the 2009 Berlinale for her previous feature, Everyone Else, is a standout writer/director in modern German cinema, and Toni Erdmann, about a funny and poignant father daughter relationship, is screening at all cities during the festival.
Griegoschewski isn’t exaggerating the female presence in German film. In an international landscape where women struggle to achieve even 20% of positions in directing, producing and writing, German film is notable for the strength and scope of its female creative talent. The special upside of this statistic is that the presence of female writers and directors often means more and better stories focusing on female characters.
. As well as the films already mentioned on the festival schedule, Cordula Kablitz-Post brings In Love With Lou – A Philosopher’s Life, based on the story of legendary female psychoanalyst, Lou Andreas-Salomé, who fascinated Freud, Nietzsche, and novelist Rainer Maria Rilke.
Germany has been a key player on the film scene since 1895 when the world’s first cinema for a paying audience opened in Berlin. Between the two world wars came a Golden Age Of German filmmaking when classics like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and Nosferatu (1922) established horror as an independent genre. Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) ranks as the first significant science fiction movie, and Marlene Dietrich became a global star with The Blue Angel and many more starring roles from the 1930s to the 1960s.
Germany’s defeat in WW2 saw a catastrophic decline in the country’s cinema scene when many directors fled to Hollywood and never returned. Recovery came with the movement dubbed The New German Cinema, when a group of talented, visionary filmmakers emerged in the 1970s through the 1980s.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder is described as “one of the most ruthless observers of human nature the cinema has ever known.” He was obsessed with what he saw as the moral bankruptcy of post-war Germany, and his prolific output of 41 films in 14 years (including Lola and The Marriage of Maria Braun) until his death at age 37 is often confronting and disturbing. The festival pays homage to the director with the doco, Fassbinder (2015), by designer turned filmmaker, Annekatrin Hendel.
Wim Wenders is something of a “renaissance man” having studied medicine, philosophy, and art before becoming fascinated with film. Paris Texas (1984), Wings Of Desire (1987), and Buena Vista Social Club (1999), are all award winning standouts. Wenders is still going strong with this Festival showcasing his 3D feature, Every Thing Will Be Fine, about a writer who is tormented by the accidental death of a child, starring James Franco, Rachel McAdams and Charlotte Gainsbourg.
“It’s the 15th Festival,” says Griegoschewski. “We don’t really ask for entries. German Films, which is the official film industry organisation in Germany who take care of licensing and marketing and support for art house films, they send us a lot of entries, and we also get a lot of recommendations from our head office in Munich. Then we have our advisory board of the critics here in Australia (including Margaret Pomeranz) who also help us choose. What’s special are the many international co-productions, with subjects touching on the wider international scene.”
These include My Buddha Is Punk (pictured at top) which follows a young Burmese punk in Myanmar who challenges the religious and political dogma through his music; or multi-award winning filmmaker, Doris Dorrie’s Fukushima, Mon Amour, shot in black-and-white in Fukushima’s Exclusion Zone, and obviously riffing on Resnais’ classic, Hiroshima Mon Amour.
“German film is really well positioned and regarded in Australia,” says Griegoschewski. “For example, The Melbourne International Film Festival featured 26 German films and a special focus on Maren Ade. What we try to bring with this German Festival are the more contemporary and art house films that would not so easily reach the Australian market.”
For more information on The German Film Festival, had to the official website.