In the last decade, Germany has produced some of the finest international movies that have won widespread critical acclaim and have also done extremely well in Europe and US commercially, primarily due to the bigger budgets and international releases.
The thematic content of many of their most renowned works bears it's contextual lineage to the turbulent German history of last century - the World Wars and the Nazi dictatorship, as well the East and West German divide during the cold war era. These movies have done extremely well at Film festivals around the globe and have also won three Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Film Category since 2000.
For the movie, Director Hans Weingartner's intent was "The Edukators is a movie about the last 10 years of my life - wanting to be part of a political movement and never really finding one that worked. I believe that we live in a time when young people crave political change but truly don't know where to begin. Perhaps our societies have grown so individualistic that a collective dynamic is no longer possible." Released in 2004, the movie was nominated for a Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. The movie stars Daniel Bruhl as Jan and Stipe Erceg as Peter, two childhood friends from Berlin who enact their radicalism's under the pseudonym, 'The Edukators'. Frustrated with the social inequities existing in present day Germany, 'The Edukators' educate the upper-class oppressors by breaking into their villas and 're-arranging' the furniture and 'literally' leaving a message for the rich that "Their Days of plenty are coming to an end".
'The Edukators' has a lot of heart and is refreshing in it's appeal. It takes you on a journey where ideologies and ideas of revolutions are explored and debated in conversations, rather than preached on unsuspecting viewers. But, at the end of it all, as in Good Bye, Lenin !, 'The Edukators' make you realize that all this is peripheral to the primal human desires of romance, love and friendship.
Based on Stefan Aust's best selling non-fiction German book, and written and directed by Uli Edel, The Baader-Meinhof Complex chronicles the rise and fall of the Baader-Meinhof group. For a better part of 1970s and 1980s, the left wing extremist Baader-Meinhof group (later known as RAF: Red Army Faction) terrorized the West German government with it's spree of high-profile assassinations, robberies, bombings and kidnappings. The movie was well received by critics around the world and was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe in the Best Foreign Feature Film category. The talented cast includes Moritz Bleibtreu as the ruthless hot-tempered Andreas Baader, Johanna Wokalek as the beautiful and passionate anarchist Gudrun Ensslin (also Baader's girlfriend), and Martina Gedeck as the intellectual journalist Ulrike Meinhof, the founding members of the ultra-violent left wing extremist group.
Uli Edel brilliantly chronicles the major incidents involving the group in detail and have been pictured in a very measured and authentic fashion, accentuating the impact of the group's violent acts on the story-telling. Given the large number of high-profile incidents the group was involved in, and Uli Edel's preference for events over drama, the movie never loses it's momentum and is an thrilling ride till the end.
Sophie Scholl: The Final Days is the true story of a anti-Nazi student resistance group 'White Rose' (Weisse Rose), with the focus on one of it's greatest and youngest martyrs, the 21 years old Sophie Scholl. Sophie Scholl, along with her brother Hans Scholl were arrested by the Gestapo while distributing pamphlets denouncing the war efforts of the Nazis in 1943, and imploring the German citizens to join the resistance movement in an effort to save Germany. The Scholl Siblings and a friend Christoph Probst, father of three children, were convicted of high treason by the 'mock' public court and executed the same day.
Directed by Marc Rothemund and written by Fred Breinersdorfer, the movie chronicles the last days of Sophie Scholl, from her arrest to her execution, along with her brother Hans Scholl and friend Christoph Probst. The movie was highly praised for it's realistic execution. it won the Silver Bear Awards at the German international Film festival for best Director and Best Actress, and also prestigious Lolas (German Film Awards) in the same categories. Highly accliamed in film festivals around the world, the movie also earned a nomination at the 2005 Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language film, losing out to the South African Film about a young street thug, Tsotsi.
Based on the best selling autobiographical novel by Stefanie Zweig, only five years old when her family fled from the German town of Silesia in 1937, Nowhere in Africa tells the story of her childhood and her family, as they struggle to adapt, and settle down to a life in Kenya, Africa.
The interesting and moving tale is brought to life by the acclaimed German Director Caroline Link, who had previously brought us the stunningly brilliant Oscar nominated drama Beyond Silence (1996). Nowhere in Africa won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 2003 and was nominated for a Golden Globe in the same category. The movie had also swept the German Film Awards, winning 5 Golden Lolas, including Best Film and Direction. The movie stars Juliane Köhler as Jettel Redlich and Merab Ninidze as Walter Redlich, the parents of young Regina Redlich, the character at the heart of the story. Caroline Link beautifully crafts each of her main characters and makes you feel a part of their own individual journeys with years passing by. Nowhere in Africa has a grand scope with it's great drama, stunning camera work and brilliant performances, all blending together to define a marvelous epic.
Based on Mario Giordano's novel Black Box and directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, Das Experiment movie borrows it's thematic elements from a real-life controversial social experiment known as the Stanford Prison experiment. Carried out in 1971 and funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Research, the goal of the social experiment was to study the psychological effects of becoming either a prison-guard or an inmate in an effort to better understand abusive prison situations. The experiment was terminated in 6 days as things started to go out of control.
Though the critics of the movie might consider the characters' quick descent into chaos and violence as forced, the real-life Stanford experiment would lead credence to such behavior (in case you want to know more; www.prisonexp.org). Oliver Hirschbiegel has got a good set of actors to work with. Moritz as Tarek, the rebel leader of the prisoners and Christian Berkel as the methodical Major impress with their efforts. There's also a romantic sidetrack in the movie between Tarek and Dora (played by the beautiful Maren Eggert) that might seem out of place to some, but for me, it added an interesting new dimension in the plot. Though not path-breaking or ground-breaking cinema by any means, Das Experimental is still a very compelling watch that is slick in it's execution and is full of vitality, and presents a very fresh and interesting new perspective on the interplay between rules, duty, desire, anger, fear and seduction of power.
The White Ribbon is a dark drama set in the German Village of Eichwald just before WW1. Directed by Michael Haneke, the movie gained widespread critical acclaim and won the Palm d'Or at the 2009 Cannes Film festival. In addition, the movie won the 2010 Golden Globe for the Best Foreign Language Film of the Year and was also nominated for the 2010 Academy Award in the same category. The movie is completely shot in black and white, and adds to the authentic feel of the movie set in 1913-1914. The choice of color also accentuates the generally dark theme of the movie.
The movie might leave a few disappointed with it's slow pace and 'unresolved' ending, but offers enough clues and character details that allows you to discern the possibilities. The director masterfully explores and details out the most innate details of the characters and you see them gradually evolve as you patiently trod through the scenes. The movie's cinematography, plot-development and pacing does wonders to capture the dark theme of the movie. Also worth mentioning is the brilliant performance by the child-actors who are able to convey innocence and malice in the most believable manner.
In Good Bye Lenin !, Wolfgang Becker presents a delightfully refreshing and entertaining comical satire on the subject of East and West German divide. A divide that was more than a physical demarcation (embodied by the Berlin Wall) but rather the clash of interests and ideologies. The movie also takes us through the tumultuous event of Berlin Wall Collapse for the unification of Germany from the perspective of a East German family. It also presents a interesting view of Capitalism conquering over Socialism as was seen after the unification.
Released in 2003, Goodbye, Lenin ! is the winner of 7 German Film Awards and 3 European Film Awards including Best Film and Best Actor. The movie was also nominated for a Golden Globe but lost out to the moving Afghani drama Osama. In 2010, the movie featured in Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" at Rank #91. Wolfgang Becker skillfully manages to capture the contrast between failed Socialism and surging capitalism through the most subtle of details. Instead of being poignant, dramatic or philosophical, movie chooses to use clever comical satire and smart wit. The movie also tries to examine the superficiality of such ideologies on individual lives and examines the importance of human relations that transcends such ideologies. Good Bye, Lenin ! is a overwhelmingly charming piece of cinema that effortlessly manages to capture the most dramatic situations with poise and a smart sense of humor.
The Counterfeiters (Die Falscher) is the Oscar winning German movie about the largest counterfeiting operation in the history. Written and directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky, The Counterfeiters won the Best Foreign Language Film at the 80th Academy Awards. An adaptation of Adolf Burger's fact-based book of memoirs, 'The Devil's Workshop, it was also nominated for the Golden Berlin Bear Award at the 2007 Berlin International Film Festival.
Unlike other holocaust movies, the movie doesn't really delve too much on the hardships faced by the Jewish prisoners or the brutality and inhumane treatment doled out to them, but rather chooses to deal with individuals, their moral conflicts, and clash of ideologies dictated by self-preservation. These aspects allows the movie to present a fresh new perspective. Karl Marcovics gives a masterful performance as Saloman Sorowitsch ('Sally'), a pragmatic anti-hero who believes in the ideal of 'adapt or die'. The rest of the cast do a brilliant job as well. The Counterfeiters is an intriguing thriller and a subtle-yet-detailed and interesting character study of individuals caught in desperate situations. Though it's merits for winning an Oscar was a hotly debatable topic, it nevertheless is one of the finest movies based on WWII to have come out in recent years.
Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, the movie won rave reviews and was a major box office hit. The movie won a number of awards, most notably an Academy Award nomination in the Best Foreign Film category (where it lost out to Javier Bardem starrer, 'The Sea Inside'). The movie was also popular in the 'pop culture' with numerous parodies of scenes from the movie, especially the scene depicting Hitler's furious rant upon realizing that the war maybe lost. Bruno Ganz as Hitler (one of the finest performances I've ever seen on screen) manages to capture the nuances of the monster, right from his slouched contour and trembling hands to the choked speech that often erupts with a force so violent so as to cause everyone in his presence to shudder.
Downfall ( Der Untergang) joins the likes of Schindler's list, Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line as one of the finest modern day WWII movies. Sitting through this nearly 3-hour movie, one cannot help but appreciate the meticulous details and the struggle it must have been for everyone involved, especially as the movie makes a daring attempt at portraying the human (not humane!) side of a man that Germans are not comfortable talking about, even to this day.
Written and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck in a remarkable debut, the movie as expected won the best Foreign Language Film at the 2006 Academy Awards and was also nominated for a Golden Globe in the same category. In Germany, the movie set a record with 11 nominations in the Deutscher Filmpreis awards, winning 7 of them including Best Film, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor and Screenplay. For many German critics, 'The Lives of others' was the greatest German Movie of the decade. The publicity created by these accolades helped the movie gross close to 80 million USD worldwide, on a modest 2 million USD budget.
The movie presents an interesting insight into a highly important aspect of 'police state' - 'Be wary of free-will'. Ulrich Muhe puts in a remarkable performance as the stoical Wiesler, with expressions often conveyed with a movement of his brows. Like Ulrich Muhe, the movie also revels in it's subtlety. It is a movie with extraordinary power delivered in a very quiet tone, almost making you take the same journey as Weisler to the goal of self-awareness and the nature of the environment he lives in. The rest of the cast, especially Sebastian Koch and Martina Gedeck create extremely believable characters and Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's brilliant direction makes you invest in them. This persuasive and expository tale of moral redemption, with it's minimalist approach, is European Cinema at it's finest.