Talking about who the Germans are, and whether they are entitled to some form of national pride is a very recent topic. Last summer’s World Championship was the first time Germans were not ashamed anymore to hang out the German flag and to be proud of Germany. This week German weekly Der Spiegel started the series “How we became, what we are”. Germans are regaining confidence of their new place in today’s world, at the same time daring to face their past. Last weekend I happened to see two interesting German films. Both of them treated a different painful period of Germany’s history, although each of them differ substantially in their tone and approach.
Mein Führer (GER 2007, 89′) Dir.: Dani Levy. With Helge Schneider, Ulrich Mühe, Sylvester Groth | My rating: | Official site
Mein Führer is a controversial film. Making a comedy about Hitler or the Third Reich is not very difficult. Charlie Chaplin and Mel Brooks did it in a great way, yet it seems like the topic is still a taboo. Mein Fuhrer tells the “really most truthful truth” of actor Adolf (what’s in a name) Grünbaum. He is taken out of the concentration camp to prepare Hitler for his New Year’s speech on January 1st, 1945. Berlin is already in ruins, and a defeat is near. Hitler is depressed and has lost confidence, but Grünbaum’s methods should get the Führer back on track. The ‘good jew’ convinces Hitler of his qualities and a strange kind of friendship develops between the two. At the same time, Goebbels is planning a plot to assassinate Hitler in a way Grünbaum will be blamed. Things do not go as planned.
Many discussions are going on whether this film is some sort of apology. The fact that the director is jewish, sets him free of any suspicion of Nazi-thoughts. Although the film is highly entertaining, it might not be funny enough to be called a comedy. Do not expect to laugh every 10 seconds, since Mein Führer is actually a surreal tragic comedy. The actors are convincing, the art direction is impeccable and the photography is outstanding.
Das Leben der Anderen (GER 2006, 137′) Dir.: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. With Ulrich Mühe, Sebastian Koch, Martina Gedeck | My rating: | Official Site (German) | Official Site (English) | Official Site (Français)
Das Leben der Anderen tells a very recent German history. Mein Führer’s actor Ulrich Mühe plays the cold StaSi-agent Gerd Wiesler, who sincerely believes in the righteousness of the Socialist System, and thus in his job. In an intelligent story the shows the gründlichkeit of the GDR’s security service, the StaSi, which at the height of its existence had 91.000 employees and almost 200.000 ‘informants’ in a country of roughly 16 million. Georg Dreyman (the excellent Sebastian Koch) is a celebrated playwright in the Socialist Republic. He doesn’t really criticize the system, since he also needs it. But when his friend and director Jerska commits suicide, Dreyman becomes more critical of the system. Bad timing. The powerful minister of Culture has an affair with his girlfriend Christa and has put Dreyman under 24-hour surveillance. While eavesdropping, Wiesler develops a fascination and admiration for Christa and Georg, and discovers the perversity of the system. He decides to rearrange the truth in a way that will be decisive for Gerogr Dreyman’s life.
Das Leben der Anderen is a fascinating account of the end of East Germany. Thesp Sebastian Koch, already excellent in Verhoeven’s Black Book, is probably one of today’s most interesting European actors. It is director Henckel von Donnermarck’s debute. The film was chosen best European Film of 2006 and I think that is completely deserved. If you would like to know how scary life was under the StaSi, you could visits Berlin’s StaSi Museum.